Disinformation: No doubts, no certainties!

The most important thing in an article about disinformation is, in fact, not to disinform. In many situations, the best contribution to the community can be an unwritten text, a link that was never created or an interrupted thought. Humanity thanks you. With that in mind, let’s move on.

Disinformation: No doubts, no certainties!
Fígura de ondas técnologicas azul

Of course it was good in the old days. The process of recording and sharing knowledge was time-consuming, inflexible, and only accessible to a few. Disinformation found an inhospitable environment with no conditions for spreading. Let the victims of the Inquisition, the Christians in ancient Rome, the Jews during the Black Plague or so many other periods of history tell the story. 

When information was controlled and managed by wise and good people, it was easy to avoid disinformation, unless we lived in undemocratic and free environments, but since this only happened occasionally, disinformation is a problem that was born with the internet.

In the past, at least, it was much easier for schools to define the main sources of truth with textbooks, programmes and content, and students would have little access to information that the dominant thinking deemed incorrect or inappropriate. If it wasn’t for the influence of parents and friends, and the community at large, of course, everything would be fine.

There was still hardly any internet outside of a few universities, and the word was already out that AIDS had been created in American laboratories, and it didn’t even take the new social networks to frighten millions with the virus waiting on toilet seats, public benches, school desks or coffee cups. There hasn’t been a war that wasn’t also fuelled by what we now call fake news, from ancient times to the most recent murders.

The source of truth

The community rightly wants to define a source of truth, validate what is right and share it with new generations through school. But should we always trust what our dominant thinking holds to be true? I’ll go back a few years, so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings today. A few decades ago, primary school textbooks carried the tutelary image of the ‘good dictator’ and many of the contents certainly implied an idea of family, social, political, and even, let’s say, ethnic organisation. Today, most people would turn up their noses at such content, not to mention wring the neck of the headmaster who allowed it.

That’s why we should never give up this critical thinking in order to also look critically at what we take for granted in the field of values.

But if we don’t take anything for granted, we open the door to the chaos created by what is wrong. Of course we must take things for granted, and the one we all have to agree on is scientific knowledge. Because it’s the one that has the hardest time asserting itself, the most scrutinised of all. It is born of the imagination and then tested, denied, rejected, and questioned again, subjected to all kinds of insults, doubts, and accusations until it is finally accepted and respected. This has no equivalent in any other area of human knowledge and tradition. In the religious sphere, you can see how ideas are born that are quickly acclaimed, worshipped, and followed by millions. As people used to say, some are children, others are stepchildren.

The biological polygraph

One of the roles of schools is to spread faith in science among all citizens. Grow and multiply, said to those who believe in scientific thought, with the virtue that scientific knowledge contains within itself its limits and the origin of its finitude. 

It is up to school to provide the tools to distinguish between what is science and what is not. That’s why schools shouldn’t cling to values or trends but should be a space for debate and clarification.

I don’t think it’s necessary to set up a lie detector in the school hall so for each student to test and verify the information they collect. After all, the polygraph, as someone once said, “needs to be polygraphed”. 

There are truths that don’t need to be polygraphised, and these are the fundamentals of teaching. The Earth is round, there are no races in the human species, medicine is one of the marvels of human history, to give only the most obvious examples. With what we consider fundamental germinating in the minds of our children and young people, we will be creating individuals capable of polygraphising almost everything they see and read. They will be biological polygraphs. A true masterpiece of molecular engineering.

More effect than cause

Useless, idiotic and even dangerous information is published and republished every day. But we will never be able to block it, not without a system that imposes censorship on all of us. Something along the lines of Big Brother, now Big AI, or Woke culture, which seeks revenge for centuries of oppression through censorship and deletions.

Scientific knowledge and critical thinking are obviously the answers to the successive epidemics of disinformation, acting as antibodies to immunise communities.
Of course, we have been focusing on procedures, on specific techniques for analysing and validating each piece of information, and that doesn’t really solve the problem. Yes, it’s important to teach how to look for sources, how to separate fact from opinion, how to avoid impulsive sharing. But in a given social, political, religious or cultural context, much of this information only serves to reinforce convictions, benefiting from individuals’ low resistance to believing. This has always been the case, especially when it comes to issues related to xenophobia, racism or cultural prejudices. This is what brings the Dreyfus affair in France at the beginning of the 20th century closer to much of what circulates today about people and migrant populations from culturally different countries. The strategy of schools and public authorities cannot be based on fighting a specific idea fuelled by prejudices against Gypsies, Muslims and others, not least because they multiply rapidly, making it ineffective to fight each one. It’s like fighting weed infections by pulling out one weed after another.

The school must encourage doubt in the approach to knowledge, rather than certainty, and combat radical thinking of any kind, because it is always based on blind trust and a lack of knowledge.

Enabling more autonomous teaching, with more room for students to make their own decisions, will tend to require young people to have more skills in researching and validating information. Traditional transmissive teaching disempowers young people, asking them to play a more passive role and promoting the idea that the source of truth is never questioned. And that is counterproductive in today’s world.

When we see debates about what students can and cannot read, about the need to rewrite books and ban works of art, we realise that we are once again nurturing a future where young people and citizens are unable to understand the world around them for themselves. Where they must rely on someone else to select and serve them the information, they need to have access to.

This cannot be the education we want for the new generations.

Promoting the autonomy and responsibility of children and young people was present from the very first moment e-Schooling began to be designed. We believe that learning strategies should require each student to take the initiative, so that they have the power to decide and make choices. We cannot believe in a world where young people are capable of doubting and seeking knowledge if we only continue to provide them with resources that do not stimulate their creativity and individuality. This is a fundamental response to fight against disinformation.


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