GIFs as Disinformation Remedy (aka The GIF Curriculum)

Earlier today Alexios Mantzarlis tweeted a GIF by @PicPedant that demonstrates a particular photo is fake in a precise way:

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This is interesting because recently I’ve been moving to GIFs myself for explanations. Here’s some demonstrations of our techniques, for example:

Check for other coverage (in this case with a good result):

Manafort

Check what a person is verified as (in this case, a reporter):

Verified

Check what a site is about (in this case white supremacy):

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And so on. Part of this is related to my and Scott Waterman’s Rita Allen proposal to generate short instructional sequences to post in comment threads of fake material (i.e., how to fact check) rather than just Snopes-ing people (i.e. “you’re wrong”). Part is based on my year and a half now of making short 10 second YouTube demonstrations of how to check various things.

But bringing it to GIFs is also based on some conversations I have had with Aviv Ovadya and others on what Web Literacy at Scale looks like. (“Web Literacy at Scale” is Aviv’s term for a project he is working on). I think one thing I’ve been thinking about (again, inspired by the insights of others at MisinfoCon) is that misinformation works on the user who doesn’t click through on links, which means media literacy efforts have to (at least in part) not require clicking through on links. If the disease thrives in a click-through free environment and learning about the cure requires click-through — well, you’ve maybe already lost there.

Media literacy GIFs, then, work on a few of levels. First, like disinformation, they operate just by being in the feed, requiring no user action, reducing the asymmetry of problem and remedy. Just as importantly, the shortness of the GIFs show that online media literacy need not (in many cases, at least) be complex. If you could have checked it in five seconds and you didn’t, it’s not that you’re just not smart enough — it’s that you just didn’t care enough. It’s a moral failing, not an intellectual one, and that framing allows us to more cleanly enforce reputational consequences one those who are reckless.

I don’t know how this affects my and Scott Waterman’s Rita Allen proposal, which involves a similar effort to show people how to fact-check rather than berate them for being wrong, but planned to use short sequences of screenshots. That framing paper is due Tuesday, so I guess I have to figure it out by then. But for the moment I’m contemplating the benefits of a media literacy campaign that thrives in the same link-averse passive consumption playgrounds as the problem it is trying to address.

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