Lessons from Disinformation

Lessons from Disinformation

Greetings, friends:
This week’s newsletter is continuing the tradition of inviting members of our community to write From The Curator’s Desk, and for this edition, I’m happy to hand it over to my colleague, Fumbua Programme Manager, Wanjiru Nguhi.

Please send your guest writing pitches for this section to chris@barazalab.com if you’re interested in being our guest curator on the newsletter, and you have something of interest to share to our community — a trend you’ve noticed or something you’d like us to think about.
~ Christine

Mis/dis-information has gotten a lot of attention in the last couple of years not because it is a new thing but because the social, economic and financial consequences have been amplified. There have been numerous efforts to train the public, advocate for more responsible use of social media and fact checking, and I don’t believe the goal is to completely eliminate lies from the world, but rather give society an opportunity to be able to tell a lie from the truth. This is important because even with the claim that there is nothing new under the sun, the way we consume information is changing. The work is done when an audience is able to tell an egg from an avocado seedling.

There are lies we don’t mind because they reveal what we are paying attention to, and they don’t have a direct bearing on the quality of our lives. I personally don’t want to live in a world without conspiracy theories, “story za jaba”, stories that begin with “you know I heard” or a world where we don’t have to ask where Kate Middleton is and what a whole princess is doing with an adobe photo editing app. That kind of mis/dis-information is good for social commentary.

But there are institutions that should not disinform the audience, particularly with regard to services and goods that directly affect our quality of life. One of these institutions is the government. We know that governments invest in disinformation and they have many reasons to do that. State sponsored disinformation reveals a number of things. First, it speaks to the administration’s competence and it’s attitude towards it’s citizens. The quality and the investment into disinformation displays the patterns and nature of impunity within that administration. State disinformation is dangerous, but when there is seemingly no thought, creativity or some intellectual investment involved means that the groups that hold the government accountable must take note of that and strategize differently.  Institutions that take time to carefully curate a narrative can or could be exposed and shamed into action.

State-sponsored disinformation also sheds some insights into an administration’s priorities, and areas it will not be investing in. The time and energy spent in actively disinforming citizens would have actually been put into working on projects that don’t need a disinformation campaign. If a state claims to have allocated a certain amount of money in a health project when it really hasn’t, then that should be an indication that the particular project will not be done. The caveat here would be if an administration is promoting a narrative to buy time. But should this be the case, it will be seen in the quality of the narrative.

In light of all this, seeing that state-sponsored disinformation can be some sort of roadmap, it would be important for us to decentre these narratives so that we are not distracted by them, and instead focus on the question: “what do we deserve?” This will mean not focussing too much on the manifesto, but making the constitution the supreme manifesto moving forward. It will also mean co-creating different collaborative strategies and supporting the “lone” voices and institutions that are pushing back, and reminding us of the things we truly deserve as citizens.

In the meantime, here’s: 

What I’m Reading: Finding Me, an Oprah’s Bookclub Pick memoir by EGOT winner and powerhouse actress Viola Davis.
What I’m Watching: I’m getting my nostalgic fix from Young Sheldon on Netflix. This show is a prequel to the legendary Big Bang Theory, taking us through the early days of Sheldon Cooper navigating life as a genius in a small town.
What I’m Listening to: I’m listening to the soulful sounds of singer-songwriter Jacob Banks on Spotify. The title of his narrative album Village, is based on the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”, and the storytelling draws on Banks’ experiences growing up between Nigeria and the UK.

My Best,
Wanjiru Nguhi.


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