The deliberate production of ignorance, and a suggestion to contain it

Everybody who already knew what agnotology means, raise their hands. And then read this anyway, please.

The deliberate production of ignorance, and a suggestion to contain it /img/agnotology.jpg

Agnotology, I learned from here, is the “strategic and purposeful production of ignorance”. A tragic example of agnotology is the 2019 Christchurch shootings. The article explains very well how that shooter communicated his actions exactly in the way that would lead to their quickest and widest diffusion worldwide, exploiting the speed of today’s social platforms.

This does not happen only with tragic events like shootings. People who are propagating conspiracy theories or simply asking questions as a way of enabling and magnifying white supremacy are nothing but, the article explains, “agnotology at work”. The following paragraph is a synthesis of the most relevant passages.

How does agnotology work?

People who want to manipulate media find areas in a search ecosystem where there is no relevant data, and exploit them. Breaking news is one example of this: they exploit “breaking” news by first creating lots of content around some buzzword, and then pushing that to the news media at the right time, so that people search for that term and receive specific content.

This is structural manipulation of media. Journalists often get caught up in telling “both sides,” but the creation of sides is a political project, and the end result is the situation we are all in these days:

“you will not achieve an informed public simply by making sure that high quality content is publicly available and presuming that credibility is enough while you wait for people to come find it - [You have to] blanket the information ecosystem with the information people need to make informed decisions”.

How do you fight agnotology?

First, do what the article says: One of the best ways to seed agnotology is to make sure that doubtful and conspiratorial content is easier to reach than scientific material. As others commented before me, this is one more excellent reason for Open Access to all scientific papers: make all the research about vaccines, for example, accessible without paywalls, not just the one pleasing no-vaxxers.

Second, much of the problem is due not to the practices themselves, but to the to near-instant speed with which they can spread. So, let’s try to add slowness to social networks.

P.S: thanks to the family member reading this post right while I was typing it, for pointing out that the strategy above is the same of all governments and power lobbies everywhere, since at least (his words) “the invention of the flint axe”. What has changed now (and yes, it is a qualitative, not just quantitative change) is that it is so cheap and easy that almost everybody can do it.

P.P.S: the very same problem of groups of all sorts continuosly trying to create always new, often bogus “drumbeat” is also the reason why I regularly share OLD news on Twitter.

Image source: “The man who studies the spread of ignorance”