Best Political Leadership Tip for 2014: Check Info Sources!

Insecure information, misinformation, disinformation, lies — it’s a confusing spectrum used to confuse voters, divide constituents and make politicians look bad. So check your sources — and your ethics, before you indulge in spin as a leader, or “buy” the story put out a politician spinning stats into scams.  It’s hard to know what’s true, how much of it is true — it’s hard to check your sources! OH, it just makes me want to RANT! This is the shadow shapeshifter, where trickery feeds greed through misdirection and confusion.
xkcd.com

xkcd.com

The greatest danger, from my point of view, isn’t that the politicians hurt their reputations. It’s that lies develop a life of their own. Politicians of whatever strategic stripe use their power to spread misconceptions that undermine open conversations and effective communication. That’s just strategically bad leadership — dangerous, even.

According to the London School of Economics blog, “Studies from psychology are depressing. These studies have documented a phenomenon called, “belief perseverance”, where initial exposure to false information continues to exert influence on opinions even after it is credibly debunked. ”

Refuting, correcting or withdrawing lies sometimes just reinforces them!  

“A variety of psychological experiments have shown that political misinformation primarily works by feeding into people’s preexisting views… a series of new experiments show that misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people’s minds after it has been debunked — even among people who recognize it as misinformation. In some cases, correcting misinformation serves to increase the power of bad information.” (Read the whole article by Shankar Vedantam at the Washington Post)

Leaders spreading strategic or careless misinformation are so common that the Columbia Journalism Review has an article about how to effectively counter misinformation.  So the next time you want to correct a false rumor (like death panels in Obamacare) or spread a true one (reducing debt saves money in the end), always check your sources.

I’ll say it again. You, the leader or the follower, the politician or the listener, the teacher or the student, the winner or the loser — always check your sources, more than once! For that matter, check everyone’s sources, and when you find the disturbing, viral half truths of pseudo-leadership, speak truth to power — be equally strategic as you lead with better information.

Eesh. No wonder satire and comedy are a potent enemy of dictators! It’s all about breaking up lies into digestible chunks that reveal spin as spin. In a world where earnest corrections can reinforce misinformation, laughter may well be the best leadership medicine.

2 comments

  1. Brilliant column.
    Lies and misinformation continue to surround President Obama, on both sides.
    He was born in Hawaii (not Kenya) and raised in Honolulu (not Chicago). Obama always goes home to Hawaii for Christmas. It’s been his family tradition for decades.

    Like

    1. Gloria: This is a great example! People who insist on believing the lies seem to believe them even more, despite the birth certificate produced, despite the facts. It’s disturbing — as if they need to believe he is alien, because at heart they truly believe he is “other.” Misconceptions and lies feed our deepest fears, and this example is one of the best.
      What I wonder is this: If logic doesn’t correct these misconceptions, then what does? What kind of leadership is needed to move into dialogue, to go from conspiracy theory to problem solving?

      Like

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