Service of Misinformation

October 25th, 2021

Categories: Conspiracy Theory, Environment, Misinformation, Museums


Rubin Museum: Mahachakra Vajrapani, China 15th century early Ming dynasty silk and gold embroidery , coral and seed pearls

The child’s party game “Telephone” is a simple way to show kids how easily misinformation spreads. You remember: the first child whispers to the second and the last child makes everyone laugh because what she/he hears is far from the original.

Following are grownup examples.

I visited the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan. It was my first time so I asked if we should start on the sixth floor and walk down. The only employee on the ground floor [not counting a guard] said “No. Visit from the first floor up.” 

We saw “Gateway to Himalayan Art” on floor two; “The Mandala Lab” on three; “Masterworks: A Journey Through Himalayan Art” on five [four was closed] and “Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightnment” at the top.

Having finished our tour a woman overheard us asking one another “Why was it important to follow the exhibitions up the stairs?” She asked if she could help us. We posed our question and she said, “We have reconfirgured the collection; the floors used to be interrelated. Not anymore.” Clearly this news wasn’t given to all staff. Not life and death, but incorrect and an example of how easily and innocently adults pass along the wrong information.

I thought of the “ahhas!” by some Covid-19 vaccine doubters when Colin Powell died of Covid complications. He’d been fully vaccinated. A cousin texted: “To use Powell’s death as proof that the vaccines don’t work is so much garbage!” Her husband, she wrote, “died of multiple myeloma and so did Colin Powell. They have zero immune system because the purpose of the chemo is to suppress the cancer from activating. It was explained on the news but people don’t want to listen. My husband fell in the bathroom and got some nicks and bruises and a strep infection and that was the start of his decline—nothing to fight a bacterial infection.”


Image by Katja Fuhlert from Pixabay 

Reid J Epstein covered a spectacular misinformation campaign in Montana in his New York Times article “Where Facts Were No Match for Fear–Civic boosters in central Montana hoped for some federal money to promote tourism. A disinformation campaign got in the way.”

The perpetrator, Rae Grulkowski, made up every fact: that “the [heritage area] designation [in Montana] would forbid landowners to build sheds, drill wells or use fertilizers and pesticides. It would alter water rights, give tourists access to private property, create a new taxation district and prohibit new septic systems and burials on private land.” Not a single allegation is true.

Epstein wrote: “‘Misinformation is the new playbook,’ Bob Kelly, the mayor of Great Falls, said. ‘You don’t like something? Create alternative facts and figures as a way to undermine reality.'”

It worked for Grulkowski: Montana governor Greg Gianforte “signed the bill barring any national heritage area in Montana after it passed on a near-party-line vote. A heritage area, the bill’s text asserted, would ‘interfere with state and private property rights.'”

Epstein also reported that Grulkowski “ticked through the falsehoods she had read online and accepted as truths in the past year: The Covid vaccine is more dangerous than the coronavirus. Global child-trafficking rings control the political system. Black Lives Matter was responsible for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The United Nations is plotting to control world population and seize private land. Mr. Trump was the rightful winner of last year’s election. Even in Cascade County, where Mr. Trump won 59 percent of the vote, Ms. Grulkowski argued that 3,000 illegal votes were cast.”

The harm done by deliberate distortions about serious matters isn’t like the child’s game. Repercussions can harm. Have you believed misinformation, later learning the truth, and changed your opinion?  Are we more gullible these days, more sensitive to false facts or are there more of them now?


Image by John Iglar from Pixabay 

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9 Responses to “Service of Misinformation”

  1. BC Said:

    Colin Powell was a compromised host with a serious disease, and his body did not / could not mount an antibody response to the vaccine. Vaccines are not 100% efficacious. Varies from 80% to 100% depending on the vaccine and the host response, age ,and state of wellness . We are exposed to much incorrect info most of our adult life.

  2. ASK Said:

    Social media has only enhanced the gullibility of those not willing to seek out reliable information; in fact, IMHO social media has contributed to the “dumbing down” of the population.

  3. CC Said:

    Couldn’t agree with you more about deliberate misinformation!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    You wonder how we survive and weed truth from fiction.

    I read a NY Times article that recommended readers–restaurant owners, manufacturers and civilians– toss red, yellow and white onions from a certain Mexican farm as part of the crop had caused extreme illness. I’d tossed the bag and couldn’t ID the origins of the onions I had recently bought so I threw out all of them just in case. I’m sure the info was accurate but am concerned about the millions who didn’t see the news or read the piece and didn’t trust it.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    I agree. A few words from a source that is credible to the reader or listener is all it takes–no proof required. The example reporter Reid Epstein of the NY Times spelled out is chilling. Half the local politicians and the Montana Governor believed some woman’s fake facts and figures. Geesh.

  6. Martha T Takayama Said:

    I guess we all at some time have believed misinformation and also later changed our minds. But at present we are inundated every day and night with massive disinformation campaigns of all different degrees of sophistication and complexity. The masters of disinformation are among our most powerful social media such as Facebook. Television news and information programs are often presented as fact but based totally on fiction. The master of this type of misrepresentation continues to be Trump. Those seeking his approval follow closely behind. I am not sure if we now are more ignorant or work at being more ignorant and therefore more gullible than we used to be. These days we are seemingly very eager to embrace any or all news that is convenient or plays into our own belief. It would appear that at least half of our government and half of our population thrive on accepting misinformation that confirms their most ignorant obsessions or prejudices. The prevalence of purely false facts presented as truth seems to have been perfected at the current moment and the consequences for misrepresentations are seeming more and more lax. There is nothing real about our current reality.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    What is most uncomfortable for me is evidence of politicians who fall for falsehoods. They are smart enough to gather the amount of money needed to participate and win an election and to get their arms around issues sufficiently to address them in speeches or debates and yet they swallow whole hog conspiracy theories and other falsehoods. Naive of me perhaps but I keep thinking, “How can this be?”

  8. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucrezia on Facebook: Misinformation, even if not deliberate, can kill, and often does. Thousands would be alive today if it weren’t for politicized fairy tales about the Virus and the gullibility of those blindly following modern Pied Pipers. One thing’s for sure, the popular Bodhisattva Vajrapani is winning no beauty contest. Is the enlightenment he represents, so frightening? Is there a more flattering and reassuring portrait elsewhere?

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Remarkable how we react to a public health crisis. Many take it seriously and do what they can to avert the deadly virus by being vaccinated and following suggestions to wear a mask indoors while others carry on about their rights being abused. This Friday at 5 pm NYC may find itself short of firefighters and police who refuse to be vaccinated because of the mandate that they must be or out. Some 95 percent of school staff have been protected as a result of a mandate that also impacted their jobs. Were such stringent measures applied for a frivolous reason I could understand the reluctance to participate. I wonder how many more need to die for some to get the message?

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