Countering disinformation takes on the form of a game called “Share or Beware” which aims to assist students and teachers in developing the ability to discern whether the information they consume (and produce!) is something they should “Share” or be wary of.

It has been in very recent studies that show how social media was used as an effective platform for propaganda, and its consequence is an erosion of civil public discourse.

The idea of a public discourse had become such a toxic place allowing disinformation to flourish as the norm rather than the exception. The dangers of disinformation may seem distant from our day-to-day lives. 

But years of neglecting this problem, we see the breaking down of social trust – in our public institutions, in media, science and medicine, and other aspects of life, which have resulted in deaths that could have been prevented. What was once a distant danger has made itself felt in our daily lives–a lie against COVID is one death lead due to it.

The present pandemic exacerbated how grossly disinformation kills people. And while the pandemic highlights the danger of this fabrication, all these manipulations started before COVID-19.

During the 2016 elections, truth was already dying a slow death. Public discourse was framed to serve the political interests of locally-entrenched politicians attempting to secure their position in the national discourse. While this in itself was not new, what was ingenious this time around was how well they framed the conversation using the power of media in all its forms. By tapping into the decades-long held emotions of distrust and discontent resulting from patronage politics and ineffective provision of public goods and services, we saw the rise of a system whose sole intent is to extract profit, the rest of us be damned.

By amplifying this discontent through the levers of social media, we felt compelled to engage with others in the name of truth and democracy. However, this attempt to engage was also framed as a struggle between “us” and “them”, adding fuel to the fire. To varying extents, we were all participants in the emotional to-and-fro that laid bare our worst selves as we struggled to prove that “we” were right and “they” were wrong. Even until now, the norm of public discourse revolves around fallacious arguments, hurling insults, discrediting others, and burning bridges with family and friends. We engaged when we could until the only reasonable option we had left was to disengage – to quarantine ourselves who are “right” from those who are infected with the virus of being “wrong.”

As we can observe, this strategy has failed. The frame of public discourse as a struggle between opposing political camps, each with its selfish agenda, has led to further distrust by the public against the institutions that should serve them. With the degradation of public trust, the value of checks and balances decreased while the demand for miraculous savior continues to increase. This incentivizes entrenched interests to leverage the existing frames of public discourse in a competition to project themselves as this savior. Rather than compete with each other for more effective public service delivery (which is all the more critical during a pandemic), they instead compete for market share and making sure that more people identify with “them” rather than “others.” 

While entrenched interests engage in what is essentially a marketing competition, the quality of public discourse declines further, creating a vicious cycle of more people depending on personalities rather than functional institutions. Personalities gain more power while checks and balances and functional services become political tools rather than public goods. Life and death become a headline that can be spun to suit one’s interests. The value of life (i.e., allocation of testing and vaccination slots) becomes subordinate to its ability to secure a substantial share of the market in the form of money and, eventually, votes.

As the current pandemic continues to kill with reckless abandon, we should bear in mind that what led to all these deaths that could have otherwise been prevented is the pandemic that continues to kill truth and public discourse. Even if we vaccinate everyone against COVID, there is no guarantee that we will come out alive come the next pandemic or climate calamity, whichever comes first. Our only hope to survive as a country is to vaccinate against both pandemics–of truth and death.