Dr. David Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
One of the troubling aspects of the times that we live in is that many people do not trust long established institutions because of the proliferation of misinformation. Indeed, reputable organizations and institutions such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, well established universities and the American Academy of Arts and Science are challenged by the general public and written off as biased and dangerous institutions. As a result, many people struggle with differentiating between valid and invalid sources. When people do not have the ability to differentiate between valid and invalid sources they become susceptible to disinformation and misinformation. In light, of this we would like to post an article we published a few years ago on the topic of disinformation.
Originally Published May 20, 2020
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
Anti-Intellectualism is the cryptonite of a democracy. In other words, an uneducated, ignorant citizenry can greatly weaken or completely kill a democracy. Indeed a lack of respect for education can render a society unrecognizable as a democracy and actually usher in a totalitarian government. When we as a society begin to discredit knowledge and intelligence, and undermine the value of education we relegate ourselves to a great loss of freedom. The mistakes made at that point would have great economic consequences, which will ultimately cost lives. The citizenry are all left to their own whim. There is a biblical passage that states “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” This is our lot if we continue to castigate the learned, discredit educational institutions and even cut funding for public education and institutions of higher learning.
We have written about the deliberate effort of the Russian government to sow discord in the US political process by spreading false information on social media. You can view our previous article on the topic here.
These efforts have an even more sinister effect when false information is spread about how we should combat a deadly virus. Consider the article Hatred going viral in ‘dangerous epidemic of misinformation’ during COVID-19 pandemic that discusses all of the information available on how to combat COVID-19 that goes against medical science and common knowledge.
Ads Appearing on Google’s Network Alongside COVID-19 from https://www.searchenginejournal.com/ads-appearing-on-googles-network-alongside-covid-19-misinformation/371081/#close Misinformation
Hitler and misinformation
The idea of operating from a political platform of deliberate lies and advancing mistruths to cover up one’s own failures and missteps is nothing new. Hitler was one of the first in modern times to intentionally mislead the public for his own political advantage. The New York Times sheds light on this little known topic in their article entitled “How Hitler Pioneered Fake News”. In the US we have to ensure that we do not make the same mistakes and allow leaders to shun education and scientific research.
Mao Zedong and Re-education
Mao Zedong in his cultural revolution and specifically his great leap forward shut all of the schools down in China in 1960’s and used his political platform to berate and discredit all of the educated in society (including young people) and had them do hard labor in the countryside as a sort of reeducation. He classified the educated elite (The so-called bourgeoisie) as enemies of the state. What can we learn from Mao Zedong and his attack on education that will help us fight against misinformation in the US today?
Educators can help students study history to understand the present and not repeat the same mistakes we have made in the past. Studying the past is a great way to educate our youth and help them understand the value of knowledge. Teachers should prepare units and lessons that help students understand how to determine whether information is valid or not. Here are some resources and lessons exploring more historical examples and the dangers of misinformation:
Misinformation and Democracy
Misinformation is a Threat to Democracy in the Developing World
Impact of Misinformation on the Democratic Process
From the National History Center: Democracy and Misinformation
Education and Democracy
On Education & Democracy – 25 Lessons from the Teaching Profession
Standing on the Frontlines for Democracy 25 Lessons Learnt on Education and Democracy
Lesson Plan #1: Introducing Democratic Education
Teaching Tolerance: A Call for Democratic Education
Resources and Lessons on Chinese Culture Revolution
Lesson Plan #1 – Cultural Revolution: “Reality vs. Government Claims”
Lesson plan for “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda” poster set
China’s Cultural Revolution, Explained
Resources for Teaching about the Personality Cult of Chairman Mao
The Cultural Revolution: all you need to know about China’s political convulsion
China’s Cultural Revolution
Mao Zedong, Freedom of Speech and Re-education
I chose this article because I feel like the topic of misinformation and anti-intellectualism is concerningly relevant in today’s society. It is known that figures such as Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong used misinformation to achieve cataclysmic ends, and it is important to recognize that the same methods of misinformation that they used are still prevalent today. There is a concerning trend in American societal discourse for those who disagree on the stances of the well-educated and knowledgeable to disregard their stances entirety which is inherently anti-intellectualism. We saw this trend with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic with widespread mistrust in medical figure such as Dr. Anthony Fauci which resulted in many people disregarding stay at home orders, mask orders, and refusing vaccinations. It has been shown that this directly resulted in a vast number of preventable covid deaths; and this is just one example of widespread anti-intellectualism and misinformation. I am not exactly sure how we as a society go about combating this problem, but an important first step that has yet to be taken is widespread acknowledgement that it is occurring.
I found this article very interesting because the topic has been relevant for so many years. The concept of fake news and untrustworthy sources and what falls in these categories only continues to grow as social media expands. People do tend to look for answers very quickly in situations of high stress, and sometimes those answers aren’t backed up ones. When COVID was spreading fast, so much misinformation was being released as a result of people desperately wanting answers. There’s also been a whole discussion about news sources not being reliable with favoring one political party over the other, with Fox News being Republican favoring and MSNBC being Democrat favoring. Media literacy is very important to teach all around with advanced technology being in our hands.
I liked how the article highlighted how people do not trust established institutions because of misinformation. When people mistrust sources that for a long time have been seen as trustworthy, people have a difficult time distinguishing between trustworthy and untrustworthy sources. The article went on to discuss how when society is uneducated and ignorant, democracy is weakened, and when democracy is weakened, it is easy for totalitarian ideas and even totalitarian governments to arise. At the end of the article, I liked how to author highlighted how Hitler and Mao Zedong discredited established institutions and controlled education in their society in order to enact their agendas.
In the Bible (Hosea 4:6) God says that my people perish because of lack of knowledge. Knowledge is seat of everybody democracy. As such leaders such as Mao and Hitler were aware of this and wanted to exploit this too their political advantage. Thankfully technology has made knowledge very available and as such easy to get through the internet and the use of electronic devices.
It is important to acquire knowledge and use it positively to impact our world. Even the negative information we learn about in history can be a great way for us to learn and progress as a society.
I feel that it is very accurate when it is stated that people often have a hard time determining between ‘real news’ and ‘fake news’. Some people just believe everything that they read with very little research or facts on the subjects and others don’t believe anything that they read and refuse that things are happening in the world around us.
I feel like this is a very important article. I mostly feel like it is important today to realize that the media of today is not much better than when Hitler first brought about Fake News. I think that it feels nearly impossible to have productive conversations today when people get their news from news outlets that spend more time pushing their views than giving facts. I think that this is harmful, and I also find it interesting that many people are quick to judge researched and academic sources. I think this happens sometimes when they don’t like what a source tells them.
Thank you for resharing. In our time of need during the COVID-19 pandemic the world was looking for answers and at that point they did not care if it was true or false they just wanted answers. Being able to educate children and even adults on how to find factual knowledge is very important. However, most children these days are looking at social media and we have that “If it’s on Facebook it has to be true” mindset. We are all guilty of watching local news media who are also biased on what information they share. We must learn to research what we believe before spreading what we think is true.
I’m glad you decided to reshare this article as it is just as important today as it was in 2020. I think the hardest thing to do nowadays is to trust anything that is long run because they have had too much time to push their views/ideas and integrate into a system with its current flaws, not to mention that large conglomerates inside the US own them. So understanding the bias this can put forth as well is essential. Although I do not believe everything they put out would be biased, it is hard to tell what is and what isn’t sometimes, which is currently where we are. With all that being said, it is imperative to get your news presently from more than one source and draw your conclusion.
I feel that you are correct when you say that people have a hard time believing the media today as much as they did when Hitler created the first ‘fake news’. I agree with you when you stated that there is a trend going on with the articles and news being anti-intellectualism and very dangerous to many. Some people just go with what they read with very little research or facts on the subjects.
Thank you for resharing this article, as it is as relevant today as it was in 2020. Unfortunately, I can understand why people are hesitant to trust some long-standing news media organizations, such as the NYT and The Washington Post. Many of these news sources are owned by giant conglomerates after all, so being aware of bias is important. But I agree that the trend of anti-intellectualism is extremely dangerous. It seems that some people are critical of sources solely because of their intellectual/academic roots, which seems so backwards. I thought it was very interesting how you pointed out that an anti-education public can actually lead to a totalitarian government. As a future social studies teacher, I see the arguments of this article as all the more reason to incorporate more attention to civics in the social studies curriculum.