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Big Revolution - The information quagmire

Welcome to Monday's newsletter. It's relatively short today, as is sometimes the case after the weeke
August 12 · Issue #495 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Monday’s newsletter. It’s relatively short today, as is sometimes the case after the weekend. But such is the ebb and flow of a daily newsletter.
— Martin from Big Revolution

Big things you need to know today
  • Face recognition is tracking visitors to the King’s Cross area of London without notification or permission, the Financial Times reports [paywalled]. It’ll be interesting to see how this squares with data protection laws.
The big thought
Beware the information quagmire; it's muddy underfoot. Credit: Hayley Seibel on Unsplash
Beware the information quagmire; it's muddy underfoot. Credit: Hayley Seibel on Unsplash
The information quagmire
I get the feeling Charlie Warzel will write variations of the same article forever. First at BuzzFeed News, and now at the New York Times, Warzel’s specialism is how the world isn’t ready for the flood of online misinformation that is surely only going to get worse.
His latest piece focuses on the online reaction to the death over the weekend of ultra-dodgy financier Jeffrey Epstein over the weekend. If you believed some people, his apparent suicide was actually a result of a conspiracy to hide Bill Clinton’s involvement in Epstein’s child exploitation ring. To others, it was a conspiracy to hide Donald Trump’s involvement in Epstein’s child exploitation ring.
There’s no hard evidence that either of those men were involved, even though both had been in Epstein’s orbit in recent years. But given that Epstein’s death in custody simply shouldn’t have been able to happen, it’s open season on theories for why it did.
Was it a complex conspiracy to stop Epstein spilling the beans about his wealthy friends? Maybe, but there just as much a case to argue that the prison system is so under-resourced and low in morale that some staff simply don’t do their jobs properly, leading to a high-profile prisoner being able to take his own life. This Twitter thread from @Popehat makes that argument.
But people will believe what they want to believe, and some of those people will share what they believe in wild and convincing-sounding social media posts. The traditional media is then stuck in a quandary — amplify the conspiracy, debunk it while still drawing attention to it, or ignore it then and stand accused of being part of the conspiracy.
I’m a firm believer that many conspiracies of the type discussed here are ignored by the general public because they don’t matter that much. Sure, they might think ‘ooh, that sounds fishy,’ but other than that, Epstein’s death won’t register very highly at all on their list of priorities in life.
But when you have political leaders who amplify conspiracy theories, that’s when the impact starts to really matter. That’s when misinformation and ungrounded speculation become battlefronts in a war for the future direction of the world.
And that’s before we get to the deliberately seeded misinformation placed by those in power at home and abroad!
This all comes at a time when we really should be knuckling down and focusing on solving the climate emergency as a matter of urgency, not battling over which secret cabal supposedly runs the world.
We’re stuck in an information quagmire where clear narratives about how the world works have been replaced by a mess of ideas that battle for space in your brain.
Charlie Warzel is probably going to write many more articles like the ones he’s written before — because the solution to the problem isn’t clear in the slightest.
One big read
The Global Machine Behind the Rise of Far-Right Nationalism The Global Machine Behind the Rise of Far-Right Nationalism
How Sweden has become an international battleground for misinformation on immigration that benefits nationalists in other countries perhaps more than it does those in Sweden itself.
That’s all for today...
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