One major component of disinformation is that the message sent to a recipient may not be the message received by the recipient. For example, let’s look at education. The message the public saw was very different from the message the teachers received (Leaving aside a public that was willing to underfund the education system in the first place.).
The message begins with people that are opposed to the public education system, either because they have a vested interest in an uneducated public, or want to use the money elsewhere, or with people who are unhappy with the content of American education (read: Less biology, more Jesus). The best way to hamper education is to slash its funding.
The message sent out from the media is: “Why can’t Johnny read?” This is a rhetorical question that is based on cherry-picking data, and is then followed by comments about the teachers’ unions, how teachers are lazy bastards who get paid a year’s salary for only 9 months’ work, etc.
The government then sends a message, in the form of the NCLB Act, which the public perceives as “straighten up and teach those children like in the good old days, or suffer the consequences.” The public is happy to hear all of the above, because none of it says “Put down the beer and get involved in your kids’ education.” Don’t just blame Bush, here…Even James Carville jumped on this particular bandwagon.
The message the teachers receive (as well as anyone else who actually takes the time to look at the NCLB Act) is more along the lines of “Teach to the provided tests. Should you waste any time making sure your students actually understand the subject matter in any depth, then kiss your funding – aka, your job – goodbye.”
The teachers of course understand this immediately, and teach to the test. This results in kids getting an education appropriate for running a cash register at Wal-Mart. The public is mystified at why the simple message they thought they saw being sent isn’t having the desired effect. The people who originally sent the message put more pressure on, rinse and repeat.
The point of all this, of course, is that the message you think you see may not in fact be the message sent, even if you’re the one sending it. This relates directly to classic disinformation theory: Communication is only possible in a non-punishing situation. The sender tells the recipient what the recipient wants to hear (in this case, the media tells the public that the problem is with the teachers and schools, not the parents), and the recipient acts – or tells their representatives – to act on that information, causing a result that the recipients never anticipated. Of course, it’s not terribly difficult when doing this with a willfully ignorant public.
Consider another message: Autocops. You know, those cameras that nail you when you speed? The intended message is “obey the speed limit, or you will get a ticket.” The message received by the general public is “slow down until you’re past the camera, then feel free to speed like a madman, because the police don’t have the manpower to patrol this area aggressively.” The message received by the cops is “Don’t argue too hard about a raise. We no longer need that many of you.”
The result, of course, is an increase in traffic accidents at the intersection immediately after the camera, scofflaws, and a pissed-off police force that will either ticket everyone that comes near them, or nobody at all. The message that the city receives is, “accidents are down in the affected area, and up in other areas. We need to install more cameras to cover the areas that are seeing the increase.”
So, how do we determine if our messages are being received in the way we intended them (for example, at least one person here will take this essay as being about NCLB, rather than as concerning disinformation, and the thread will derail)? One way is to be as clear as possible about our intended results. The other is to examine the effect that the message has, and modify it as necessary.
As far as messages we receive, the important thing to ask yourself is “What is the actual intent of the information I have received, as it pertains to me?” If you’re a teacher, and you want to keep your job, the message is to teach to the test. That’s how it’s going to be. If you can’t live with that, you might consider getting hired at a chapter school or some private establishment where the parents of the people sending the message send THEIR kids to get an actual education.
If you’re a cop, the actual message is “find a way to fuck those cameras up, or get a job doing private security for spoiled celebrities and executives”. If you’re the public, the message SHOULD be “Why are you allowing fucking MACHINES to discipline you? What the hell is WRONG with you people?
Okay for now,
Doktor Howl, smasher of uppity machines.