Saldana: To defeat disinformation, educate your audience, make them not cynical, but skeptical


There is a firehose of disinformation, and the way you defeat that is to educate your audience, to make them not cynical but skeptical, says Dave Saldana, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and producer, who has worked in prominent US and international media for more than 30 years, and is an expert on dealing with disinformation.

In an interview for the Institute for Media and Analytics IMA, Saldana speaks about the some of the ways for having a more effective fight against disinformation.

“You know, we’ve all run into this on Facebook, on Instagram, talking with our families, and, you know everybody’s got that one uncle who believes everything he reads on the internet. My personal strategy with that is to ask: Why do you believe that? Does it make sense? What’s the source on that? Where did it come from? If you’re believing a story that exists on one website why is the rest of the media ignoring it, right? They would at least address it to say that it’s false, right?”, says Saldana.

He points out that there’s a certain element in our societies that believes that there’s an enormous conspiracy.

“I can tell you, having worked in newsrooms all over the United States, big newsrooms, small newsrooms, national newsrooms, international newsrooms, there is no conspiracy. Journalists are strictly trying to tell you a story. There are certainly ways that the news gets skewed based on a lot of different interests, but the ultimate issue is they’re trying to tell you the truth. Now, if your media diet, so to speak, is telling you something that you’re not going to find anywhere else, that’s a reason to be skeptical, but that’s not a reason to believe that you’re in the know”, pointed out Saldana.

According to Saldana, the disinformers pray on the fact that we live in a complicated, confusing world, and people are looking for simple answers.

“They’re looking for things that explain things that confuse them, in the most simple forms. Bumper stickers are a very popular form of communication, but they’re not a good way to understand policy. And those bumper sticker explanations that you find in disinformation, you know – “they’re all out to get you”, “you’re in ‘the know’”, “you’re one of the smart ones who gets it” – those are the reassurances that disinformers use to make their message more effective”, says Saldana.

He also notes that it’s hard to get through to people who identify with being in ‘the know’, because they cling closely to their political or social alliance, which makes them feel like an important insider.

“It’s hard to get through to them. But ultimately, it’s the people who are in sort of the middle, the ones who kind of listen to the news with half an ear. Those are the people who can still be influenced. And, those are the people that we need to remind to be skeptical, right? Not everything you read on the internet is true, not everything that gets told over and over again is believable, simply because it’s been repeated”, stresses Saldana.

Saldana points out that we have to educate the audience, starting from the time that they’re children.

“My kid has two iPads and an iPhone and he just turned 9 years old. So, he spends a lot of time on the internet already. And, I’ve got to, as a parent, it’s my job to help him kind of negotiate his way through. And, that’s something that we as a society need to do, top to bottom, not just children and adults. We need to learn to read critically, to watch critically. And, that’s before you even get into the world of deep fakes, which now you can’t even really trust your eyes. How are we going to combat that, I have no idea, but it is most definitely an important task and one that, as a society, we need to address. We’ve got to build in that critical thinking, that healthy skepticism, but not let it turn into cynicism, where people throw up their hands and say: everybody’s lying, I can trust no one, I’m going to tune out. We need to have an intelligent engaged society to make our democracies work”, stressed Saldana in the interview for IMA.

Petrit Sarachini