To What Extent has Misinformation Shaped History?

EDITORIAL

Sumair Khattar

Lying is bad. It’s a simple fact. It’s something that people are taught since birth. But lying is something everyone does no matter what. We’ve all lied about something, sometimes big, sometimes small - it’s what makes us all human. Lying comes in many shapes and forms; most commonly we see people lie when they are talking face to face with one another, but another  way of lying that can reach a much larger scale is misinformation. Misinformation, now commonly referred to as “Fake News”, has been used throughout history to gain social, economical, and political power. In recent times, misinformation has most prominently been used and spread using social media. As the number of internet users continues to increase globally, more misinformation will be spread throughout the world and millions won’t even know they’re reading it. They read this information and their views of the world around them changes completely. All this change in perspective, and often hatred, comes from one lie, followed by another, and another, and another.


The most prominent example of misinformation in history to gain power is Nazi propaganda. Nazi ideology stemmed from the idea of hate and fear, which Hitler and his supporters targetted primarily towards the Jewish community in Germany, making them the number one enemy for most Germans. In fact, Joseph Goebbels, who was the Reich Minister of Propaganda, wrote that propaganda should vilify a certain section of the world to make them the “enemy”, always show only one side of the argument, and should constantly criticize the “enemy”. He also wrote that Hitler’s propaganda is what allowed him and his party to brainwash the other citizens in Germany to believe such malicious and untrue things. This misinformation brought the Nazis to power on an immense scale, ultimately resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent Jewish people, and prompting the invasion of Poland which led to World War 2. Countless people around the world died because of one group and the lies that they were spreading. But in the eyes of Hitler and his party, these lies worked in his favour, riling up the German citizens and uniting against one group. This horrible event in history highlights the immense power and importance of misinformation and lying in general.


Most recently, in America, and all over the world as a whole, there has been a surge in “Fake News” and misinformation largely attributed to the rise in prominence of social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Whatsapp. While it may at first seem that this misinformation hasn’t had a major impact on the society around us, we only have to look at the news to see the hatred that is spread everyday due to this information. On January 6th 2021 we saw something happen at the US Capitol that is unprecedented. The insurrection that took place on that day was fueled by misinformation and baseless conspiracy theories spread by Trump supporters and even Donald Trump himself. These lies went so far that supporters threatened to behead house members including Mike Pence, who was Donald Trump’s Vice President, after he decided that it was against the constitution to start the process to overturn the election results. Even after the horrific event, Trump and his allies continued to spread the notion that he was the rightful president of the United States, despite not having a single shred of evidence of mass voter fraud. Nevertheless, tens of millions of Americans showed their support for Donald Trump as well as their hatred and disgust towards the then-incumbent President Biden and Vice President Harris. This misinformation didn’t only cause a temporary halt in the democratic process, but also was a way to spread hate towards minorities around the world. For example, during this pandemic far-right groups like QAnon have spread racist ideologies targeting Asian-American people, blaming them for the situation that we are in right now. Due to these lies spread and the blame being dealt to the wrong people, hate crimes against Asian-Americans have risen by 23%. Furthermore, during this pandemic there has been an unprecedented amount of medical misinformation, even from the former president himself, specifically regarding mask-wearing and the vaccinations that are taking place around the world. This simple yet deadly lie has cost millions of lives around the world, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.


In conclusion, our world always has and still continues to spread misinformation and lies to the people that are willing to listen. If there aren’t stronger rules related to misinformation and stricter punishments, this deadly issue will continue to haunt everyone in the world. My grandfather often shows me a video that his friend sent him. He always looks me dead in my eyes and says, “Is it real?” 90% of the time, I reply with “No.” I hate to see my grandfather not know the difference between what’s the truth and what’s false. But he’s not alone. Hundreds of millions if not billions of people fall for this information; slowly but surely, that misinformation is changing the way the world works around us, changing our perspective, making us more hateful to one another. But nevertheless, we as a united community have the power to make this world a better place. One lie at a time.