Rational decision making in democracies is becoming increasingly difficult due to the tide of misinformation launched by social media and lobby groups. There are those that support climate change denial, refute the seriousness of hospital admissions due to Covid, anti-vacs’ and many others. The purveyors of these mistruths are a danger to society and themselves. George Monbiot writing in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/27/covid-lies-cost-lives-right-clamp-down-misinformation argues that ‘claims representing a danger to life’ should be prohibited. Few would disagree.
However, misinformation is more than a danger to life, it is a threat to democracy itself. This has been demonstrated with the election of Trump and the continual loyalty of his supporters, despite his lies, and his illegal and narcissistic behaviour. Trump has gathered a xenophobic tribe of followers who cherish his opinions, irrespective of their validity. This is a common characteristic of dictators.
Anne Applebaum in her book The Twilight of Democracy writes:
Authoritarians need people who will promote the riot or launch a coup. But they also need people who can argue that breaking the constitution or twisting the law is the right thing to do. They need people who will give voice to grievances, manipulate discontent, channel anger and fear, and imagine a different future. They need embers of the intellectual elite, in other words, who will launch a war on the rest of the intellectual and educated elite, give voice to grievances…. [by] betraying the central task of an intellectual, the search for truth, in favour of particular political causes.
Pseudo-scientists that give validity to false and dangerous ideas are a serious threat both to life and democratic institutions. It is they that have given credibility to climate change denial, vaccination scares and downplaying the Covid threat. Taken up by unscrupulous rumour mongers with their own political agenda they manage to confuse arguments, obfuscate the truth and warp decisions.
The BBC, for all its virtues, has given time and credibility to these agents of disinformation in order to give a ‘balanced view’. Contrarian arguments, however bizarre, make for entertaining listening. We all have the right to speak freely but there are limits. The freedom to disseminate misinformation has been exploited by rumour mongers in a way that is dangerous to society.
Lobby groups and malicious organisations who deliberately distort the truth do not support the principles of eco-humanity. It is hard to overstate the danger they represent to our society. We need to take more direct steps to protect ourselves.