Researchers have identified Americans most likely to propagate disinformation (daniel l. goetz)

    What does it mean to interact compassionately with those carelessly and irresponsibly creating chaos?

    CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES from SETE, France. CCO, via Wikipedia Commons 2011

    Political science researchers at Duke University have identified the group most likely to propagate disinformation. Based on the researchers’ findings, conservatives are more likely than those identifying as independent or liberal to invent or share false information specifically created to cause chaos and confusion. But not all conservatives are likely to engage in propagating disinformation.

    That’s encouraging. However, if the offenders are not simply conservatives, how to identify this disinformation propagating subset of conservatives and what to call them? Answering this challenge, the researchers invented a term and a polling instrument in the quest to find out just who are the offending “disinformers.”

    The research team labeled this group “Low-Conscientiousness Conservatives,” an appropriately academic sounding term defining respondents with irresponsible and careless attitudes. What struck me foremost in the news story was the part that pointed to the survey instrument’s measure of LCCs’ embrace of chaos. LCCs score high on chaos.

    Chaos and cosmos were thought of as antonyms by ancient Greeks who gazed into the heavens and observed the ordered system of planets and stars. Human affairs, by contrast, demonstrated the opposite disorderly behavior — in other words, chaos.

    Not long into the term of the defeated former American president, analysts and commentators identified his consistent embrace of chaos. Chaos is good, he proclaimed and then demonstrated this claim daily on social media and campaign-like rallies of his base.

    The Duke team’s findings identify those who embrace chaos and share disinformation to cause doubt and confusion. LCCs want to disrupt and cripple governance systems and institutions and, then, . . . see what happens next.

    It’s widely reported that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress agree that U.S. government must legislate, regulate, and enforce new laws for media to control the creation and spread of disinformation. Civil society and businesses must play their part in this effort as well. An all-hands-on-deck approach is needed. Absolutely, let’s get this done pronto.

    This leaves members of the public with the question: How to engage with LCCs who ingest and pass on disinformation? Is there a chance that we can engage compassionately with a group comprised, by definition, of careless and irresponsible people with a propensity for chaos?

    At this point I feel obliged to disclose the following: I believe that LCCs are real. I know too many of them to believe otherwise. Some are my relatives. I’m having a hard time seeing how the rest of us, the non-LCCs, can practice empathy in our relations with those who are causing so much harm to public discourse.

    Since we’re dealing with disinformation’s threat to understanding what’s real — based on facts — in our world, I’m inspired to draw from my experience learning about and caring for dementia sufferers. Dementia caretakers quickly learn that they are dealing with persons whose thoughts are chaotic and confused.

    Dementia is the loss of cognition — sometimes referred to as executive function — that comes from the brain’s inability to process incoming sensory data and transform these inputs into understanding. LCCs share with dementia sufferers the sense that they are threatened by and disconnected from their surroundings. LCCs’ careless and irresponsible attitudes and behaviors contrast with those whose lives are more ordered and predictable.

    Practically speaking, I have learned that caring for dementia patients means being constantly prepared to prevent dangerous and disruptive behavior caused by chaos and confusion of the mind. With LCCs it may make sense, then, to adopt and practice guidelines that caretakers learn in communicating with dementia sufferers. Here’s a short list of those rules — We don’t lecture, we reassure. We don’t demand, we ask or model. We don’t force, we reinforce. And lastly — this is a tough one in practice — We don’t reason, we divert. I leave to readers’ judgment how many of these guidelines they might find appropriate and useful in their interactions with LCCs,

    To reduce and control disinformation, society must deal effectively against those who sew chaos and division. In dealing with family, friends, and colleagues, practicing compassion is required. But individual acts of compassion are not enough in the broader perspective because, unlike brain diseases that cause dementia, there are remedies that we can take collectively to reduce resentment and hopelessness that characterize LCCs’ behavior.

    In a compassionate society with more fairness and justice, I have to believe that fewer people will embrace and spread misinformation and undermine our public discourse and faith in democratic values.



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