The Communication Battle Facing Us All

by Michael Rickwood

Misinformation is the scourge of our time. It confuses and divides us and can do irreparable harm. What can we do to fight it?

For the majority of us today working in business, life is good. In the last 15 years or so, I have observed huge improvements in the way large companies and corporations respond and communicate with their customers and peers on issues that matter: climate change, DE&I and Digital transformation being the most important. Our leaders now actually tell stories that inspire us and share their vulnerabilities. We have seen workspaces improve both in comfort, facilities and aesthetic. Our working weeks have become more flexible than ever, on average spending 2 days of our working week at home. Our children see us more and many of us no longer have to wait for retirement to do the things we really want to do. All of this, whether you are grateful for it or not, is in direct response to the commoditization of our individual power; from the small devices in our pockets accessing the information that we need to the social media accounts that we use and give us a voice that our peers listen to. We have come far and quickly. But the 21st century, for all its advances, is bringing us new problems, by actors who wish to reverse this empowerment. One of the weapons in their armory is misinformation, a kind of noxious drip-feed of poison, which is causing us irreparable harm.

If I tell you, as you read this, that Apple is in serious financial trouble, most of you will probably dismiss it as rubbish. Some of you will go and check on Google, though, read something about complex financials, long-term risks and unsold products and there perhaps some doubt will begin to creep in. There are forces out there that want to see Apple fail and make money from it. If I were to tell you that the color Red is now the new Black, there may be stuff online about that as well, and what follows is muddy confusion.

Another word I want to add here is gaslighting. Here is a simple definition: “To manipulate someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.” Misinformation works like this. It clouds the victims’ judgment, making them doubt everything and believing something false. It is as old as time itself and was used to support every abuse of power there ever was. Today, people are grappling with fundamental truths and untruths and discourse is tainted. In some companies today, it is literally an offense for people to share their views in case of deep disharmony. This not good for cohesion and relationships and gives employers another thing to worry about.

So what can we do to fight it? I believe it’s actually quite a deep-rooted and complex problem, difficult to solve in 4 bullet points. But here are some simple but important things to think about based on what I’ve experienced and researched:

  1. Get news from trusted and multiple sources. It’s all too tempting to only listen to our favorite YouTuber and sources that reinforce our own views. Get perspective from multiple outlets, even ones you don’t care for.
  2. Build your own peer network of clear-minded friends and colleagues. Their feedback may be indispensable on your views. Be open to debating with them even if you don’t agree and know when to stop. We have to learn to disagree and get along.
  3. Work on yourself. Emotions are driving the propagation of misinformation and are what keep people entrenched: anger, fear and grief being the most powerful. What’s driving you?
  4. Take distance from misinformation. If you are exposed to blatant misinformation via a relationship or family member, distance yourself. No one is immune.

Like all communication, whether it is writing an article or pitching sales, the target of misinformation is the human brain. Psychology plays a huge part in this, as do our emotions. It seems to me that manipulation and misinformation are all about framing a problem where there isn’t one, or reversely pretending there isn’t a problem when there is one. Our world is complicated and at times does not make sense. Perhaps those choosing the oblivion of conspiracy and utopia are running away from this truth: chaos and uncertainty are a part of all of our lives. But you’ll never know how good your life is and how free you are… Until it’s too late.