While we believe that existing solutions to the impact of disinformation provide value, they are very much focused on the information being disseminated, not on how and why disinformation is dividing our societies. We can throw technology and facts and moderation and regulation at the problem, but they will not change the fact that the reasons people believe what they do have less to do with false information and more to do with the circumstances in which they live and the groups they affiliate with. People who have reasons to distrust government institutions or suffer from income inequality, for example, approach information differently than those who are on the other side of the equation. If societies continue to focus on the veracity and flow of information, they are missing the point.
Operation: PLUTO is a multi-faceted campaign designed to mitigate the impact of disinformation on societies by giving them the tools and knowledge to thrive in the modern information landscape. It is rooted in three core ideas.
The first is that it is not realistic to try to stem the flow of disinformation. Shutting down troll farms and bot networks will only result in new troll farms and bot networks springing up to fill the void.
The second is that people are the ultimate targets of disinformation campaigns. Without manipulating people, elections cannot be influenced, company boycotts cannot succeed, and divisive issues cannot be inflamed.
The third is that we need to first evaluate the intent, if any, behind information before fixating on whether something is fact or fiction. People need to be aware of what disinformation is trying to achieve in order to avoid becoming unwitting accomplices in campaigns designed to divide their own societies.
Broadly speaking, we have developed a three-pronged strategy: reparation, preparation, and reformation.
Reparation aims to address the damage disinformation has already done, namely polarization, damaged personal relationships, and apathy towards information evaluation. We want to bring psychology to the forefront of the discussion to help people understand the processes behind these phenomena.
Preparation looks to raise awareness of disinformation and its impact, educate societies on the anatomy of disinformation campaigns and the evaluation of the intent behind information, and demonstrate effective ways for discussing a divisive topic.
Reformation aims to promote systemic change in areas such as social media regulation, the realignment of attention economy incentives, and the inclusion of disinformation education in school curricula.
At a tactical level, we have identified four specific initiatives to focus on:
Raise disinformation awareness
The first step is helping people understand disinformation in holistic and tangible way. Only then can they begin to inspect their own information consumption habits and recognize disinformation campaigns for what they are. To make this palatable for everyone, we want to move the conversation away from the integrity of the information itself and focus on raising awareness around the intent behind the information.
We will produce as-objective-as-possible content that aims to characterize the threat of disinformation, how it works, and how to recognize it, all without passing judgement on any information in question. Such content will take the form of podcasts, articles, interviews, videos, and infographics.
The content will be accessible to all on an open-source content platform.
Media is a key component to any awareness campaign. We want to seed our key messages in media across countries and languages through interviews, thought leadership, and other earned coverage.
Tackling the impact of disinformation requires people from across disciplines—including psychology, technology, media, cybersecurity, journalism, and intelligence—to provide insight and analysis. We hope to engage those who share our vision to contribute their expertise to our cause.
Despite its role in facilitating disinformation, social media remains an important tool to reach audiences with our messages. We can also use social media to help illustrate how disinformation campaigns work.
Promote empathy as a tool to bridge societal divides
When two sides do not trust each other’s facts, the solution is not to double down on facts. We need to move away from the endless cycle of “do your research” and towards discourse rooted in empathy. If we seek to better understand where the other side is coming from, we establish credibility and can find points on which we agree. This is the basis for constructive discourse and the pursuit of a shared truth.
We want to demonstrate how people on opposite sides of an issue can have a constructive conversation without threatening the relationship. This will be done through podcast episodes and videos that show real people conversing with additional insight from psychologists.
Develop educational initiatives
Disinformation needs to be addressed by education systems at all levels. Societies need to prepare themselves for the information landscape they find themselves in. Critical thinking is important, as is understanding the anatomy and intent of disinformation campaigns.
One area we want to investigate in more detail is the way in which information flows around issues and events. We plan to explore existing methodologies and conduct our own analysis to identify patterns and provide people with a high-level view of disinformation’s role in the information landscape.
Evaluating the veracity of information can be messy. We want to build on existing methodologies to provide people with an approach to quickly and effectively understand whether the intent behind a piece of information is to deceive and divide.
We want to work with governments and other educational institutions to build curriculums and other material that helps students of all ages understand how disinformation impacts them and what they can do about it.
Call for the realignment of attention economy incentives
That the modern attention economy incentivizes the spread of disinformation hampers many of the efforts to address the problem. Flipping these incentives so that information integrity is incentivized instead would have a dramatic impact on the information landscape. This would by no means eliminate disinformation, but it would make the enterprise a lot less profitable. It is unlikely, of course, that social media companies will take the initiative on this, so government regulation is needed.
We intend to use the media to highlight the problem with attention economy incentives and provide actionable insights on how governments can help realign the incentives in support of information integrity.
We want to build a body of content that demonstrates our credibility and leadership in the reformation of the attention economy. We will aim to seed content in relevant publications and use our own platforms to disseminate our analyses and solutions.
We know by now that there is no panacea solution that will stop disinformation. Operation: PLUTO is designed to mitigate the impact of disinformation by focusing on the ultimate targets of disinformation campaigns: people. We want to raise awareness of how disinformation campaigns work, promote empathy between opposing sides, develop educational initiatives to prepare future generations, and call for the realignment of attention economy incentives to make information integrity profitable. Through these initiatives, we hope to give societies the tools and knowledge to thrive in the modern information landscape.