Discussing The Power of (Mis)Information

In our August Open Your Mind session we organised a discussion on the power of (mis)information based on the critically acclaimed BBC documentary HyperNormalisation by BAFTA winner Adam Curtis.

For those who haven’t seen the 2h45min doc, check it out here. (Yes it’s a bit long but it’s worth it).
In a nutshell, Curtis argues that since the 70s governments, financiers, and technological utopians have given up on the complexity of the "real world" and built a simpler “fake” version of the world ran by corporations and kept stable by politicians, in order to better control the people and hung on to power. He also argues that, in a way, it’s kind of everyone’s fault as we all went along with it because its simplicity was just really reassuring.

To better frame the conversation and highlight the relevance to our profession of strategists in the marketing industry, we picked two major themes and made them our main topics of discussion:

Alternative Facts - The new (successful) marcomms technique

After a quick intro on why the heck alternative facts are now such ‘a thing’ (remembering Conway’s amazing comment after Trump’s inauguration), we discovered through a clip from HyperNormalisation that this technique of twisting the truth in order to make your opponent look bad is far from being new.

Many governments and corporate leaders have used this technique in the past. Whether it’s the US blaming Gaddafi in 1985 for attacks he didn’t perpetuated to safeguard commercial Syrian relationships or the same government using perception management on its own citizens to inceptionize the existence of UFOs in order to cover up for military missile testings against the Soviet Union, or even Trump defeating journalism by divulging falsehood information; all these were made to serve personal or commercial interests, and actually served them well.

So we debated, doesn’t a technique like that (twisting the truth to create an alternative reality) have a role to play in our lives as planners developing our client’s strategies?
As the experts in targeting emotion or using behavioural economics to nudge audiences, isn’t it our responsibility as strategists to always do the best for our clients?
Or do we have to draw an ‘ethical line’ somewhere? And if so, where?

It was interesting to hear everybody’s point of view on this - we discovered it was a really personal thing. Some members would only draw the line where the ASA stops, while others had a much more personal view on what was good and what was bad.

Moving on to our second topic… The discussion lead to a more unanimous view and all started to exchange tips and tricks on how to best approach this issue.

Cyberspace - How the Internet contributes to a culture of (mis)information

On this one, we all agreed (even with Curtis). The Internet is just a tool.
A tool that could be either used as a force for good, such as better connecting and communicating with each other, and potentially helping us support one another while rebelling against some systems of power (i.e. the Arab Spring), or as a force for evil, such as trapping citizens in alternate “fake” lives (John Barlow’s acid tests) full of perfectly filtered Instagram feeds, missing out on the real face-to-face interactions and being reduced to the comfortable silos of our algorithm bubbles.

The latter did strike a chord.

Who in the room had actually predicted Brexit? And Trump’s access to power? (And will it be the same for the French elections?)
Well the ones that did, had actually made the effort of getting out of their bubble(s). They were those who weren’t always living in London, or who were reading Breitbart or the Daily Mail on their lunch break. And quickly, the conversation turned into an explosion of tips and tricks on how to best break free from our social algorithms silos. From changing your social settings from ‘top stories’ to ‘most recent stories’, to reading new stuff or finding ‘deputy curators’ that you violently disagree with, to continually checking sources, to just going out more and talking with random people.

Overall, a brilliant and enlightening conversation that reinforced Group Think’s moto, that it’s when you converse with a varied bunch of people that you learn the most.

Join us next time for new adventurous conversation at Open Your Mind.