Recently Joan Donovan visited NZ. She is the head of the Technology and Social Change Project at Harvard University, the co-author of a book on the digital underworld that led to the January 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol.
She is reported as saying in Newsroom that:
“harmful misinformation and disinformation on the internet is a global problem, a visiting American expert says, but that doesn’t mean it has to play out in New Zealand the way it has in the United States.”
Here are some quotes from an article on her observations in Newsroom:
Instead, the commercial operating model for journalism is broken, so it leads either to cuts to genuine reporting or a turn towards the content that does turn a profit: outrage, clickbait, vapidity. Civil society isn’t much better off.
“What’s challenging is there are major rollbacks in the universities here, major rollbacks related to journalism, and so we’re in a new era here where social media is the distribution for news and information but they haven’t taken up the mantle as guardians of truth, like journalists, like teachers, like librarians, like our civil society has done,” she said.
“Without that respect for the truth, without respect for democracies, without respect for the deeply held values of your society, you’re going to end up in a very similar position that we have in the US. Where you have a very authoritarian government that wants to maintain the status quo because that’s how they got there.”
We have a bit of shielding because our mainstream politicians are not engaging in the sort of disinformation operations happening in the US. But that tool is still there, and the main thing holding them back is convention and perception.
“If it is the case that you have incendiary politicians running for office that are using the internet to spread vitriolic content about small groups of people that don’t have a lot of representation or if they’re spreading disinformation about their political opponents, then yeah you’re going to head in this direction,” Donovan said.
“As well, if you develop more of a partisan media ecosystem that’s very profitable, that traffics in novelty and outrage. These are the key components.”