In crisis communication, there is a premise that information is the first victim in any crisis – be it war, a pandemic or civil unrests. It seems that this hypothesis has proved to be true in this on-going global pandemic.
Communication gaps have been happening with different people understanding the same messages in different manner coming out from the same course. Fake news have been hitting our mobile phones and social media newsfeeds. Unfounded conspiracy theories, like government hiding information, is taking root, which, as a result, is pushing the small team of media officials in the government to wage an information war on several fronts.
The first concept we need to understand is what is called misinformation. This can be defined as information that is inaccurate, or false, but not created to cause any damages intentionally. For example, someone could share an outdated news or totally an out-of-context information without realising the consequences. This is inevitable and it happens all the time, even the official communication. In many ways we accept it as a norm – as a communication gap or simply as miscommunication.
Of totally different nature is disinformation, which is false information that are disseminated to deliberately create confusion, or to harm an individual or institutions. It originated during the the Stalin era as State propaganda that were directed towards the West. Under the current circumstances some of the fake news and wrong information circulated in the social media would fall under this category. In these trying times for everyone, where the limited resources and people are wasted to counter such mindless activities, I feel this is a crime. And I hope that law enforcement agencies will not take them lightly.
Information is the first victim in any crisis – be it war, a pandemic or civil unrests.
At the heart of the matter, though, is the gullibility of the mass, or the inability to separate the truth from the fake. Of course, what is even scarier, these days, is the superficiality of our people brought about by easy access to information – of thereby giving the illusion of being knowledgeable and wise. There is big difference between having information, being knowledgeable and possessing wisdom. This topic, of course, will be for another time. So, let’s go back to the point on gullibility.
This behavioural pattern in a society can be exploited by groups or individuals trying to destabilise a country or its economy or cause chaos. The best example is what happened with the US elections in 2016 and the Brexit vote in the UK. Being gullible, or superficial or ignorant, as a society makes it an easy target. And mind you, for all the nice things on us that you read or see in the foreign media, Bhutan is not a darling of everyone in the World. Unlike in the past this new era, which some communication scholars have termed as the Post-Truth period, will see information wars being increasingly launched as a way to dominate another group, race, or an economy.
I hope that some large and long-term investments in mass media literacy programs will be initiated and implemented in the country in the post-Covid era – in earnest. Otherwise, we may need to deal with severe consequences that may even border on a compromised internal security of our nation.