How Disinformation Shapes Your World

Tara McGowan, founder and Publisher of Courier Newsroom and CEO of Good Information Inc, a civic incubator that invests in immediate solutions to counter disinformation online, shared this article as a companion to her podcast Reality Lost – How Disinformation Shapes Your WorldThis interview is part of the International Leadership Association Series that features guests from the International Leadership Association 2022 Global Conference held in Washington, D.C., in October 2022.

I often say that mis- and disinformation only succeed in a vacuum. When people cannot access good, quality information, they turn to what is available – and in today’s media environment, what is most available are lies and conspiracy theories.

In the world of 50, 40, even 30 years ago, the media ecosystem was highly centralized. Information sprung from one location and was disseminated by trusted sources. Legacy media like national and local newspapers and trusted cable news programs provided an authoritative source for factual information. These outlets served as trusted gatekeepers. They determined what was newsworthy information and what would make it into the collective consciousness of the audience at large.

Today’s reality is much different. The current media and information ecosystem is increasingly decentralized and Americans are more and more getting their news and information from social media. These platforms operate on algorithms that reward emotional and salacious content and exploit personal biases. On top of that, legacy media is shifting. Local newspapers are dying at an alarming rate and national publications put their content behind paywalls and target elite audiences, leaving the average American consumer behind. 

This dangerous perfect storm has allowed for the rise of those information vacuums in which disinformation thrives in the form of online echo chambers. 

People do not live in news deserts – information and news is readily available all over the internet. Rather they are trapped in these echo chambers that feed and are fueled by social media algorithms. Social media is adapting to our changing news consumption behaviors and traditional media outlets are not. Algorithms that are set to feed off of people’s biases create a streamlined flow of bad information into echo chambers, aided by the attention economy—the more you engage, the longer you stay, the more ads that can be sold to the consumer. On top of this, social media users are being served salacious and emotional content because reactivity leads to better performance of posts.

The solution to this is to shatter these echo chambers and fill the vacuums on social media with good, quality, and factual information. In the absence of algorithmic reform and increased regulation of the big social media platforms, we need solutions that play their game to increase the volume and quantity of this good information online.

We can get more people engaged in their local communities and civic responsibilities by giving this information a fighting chance on social media. Let’s make local news and information compete in the algorithm, and use engagement to drive the trusted news that traditional media outlets and trusted journalists are producing in front of the average citizen. 

Good information and quality reporting needs to be packaged in a way that works with algorithms and will engage audiences. Graphics with topline information and skimmable yet informative headlines and informative video clips are easily shareable and effective content pieces. They are also more accessible for the average citizen who may find themselves trapped in an information echo chamber. They are not placed behind a paywall and aren’t boring long-form articles that are written for the pundit and academic classes.

We can adjust how news is distributed so that it’s easily readable in someone’s newsfeed, or as they’re scrolling through Instagram, or checking their emails in the morning. It’s also important to innovate and adapt these strategies to changing trends on social media platforms. For example, with the rise of vertical videos on platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels, reporting should adapt to match demand from social media users and younger audiences.

Not only are legacy media outlets not adapting to this new reality and media ecosystem, our leaders are also slow to adapt. In order to communicate effectively with constituents and get ahead of dis- and misinformation, leaders need to meet constituents where they are getting their information. They too can break through the echo chambers and get good information into the algorithms.

This idea that the best way to break echo chambers and fight disinformation is by getting more good info in circulation online allows for individual agency as well. We all have the power to share more good, factual content which we interact with on our social channels. 

Fighting the information war in the new and evolving media ecosystem is a systemic effort. It’s going to require adaptation and evolution from media, government, and individuals. But a world with more good info is possible.



Tara McGowan is the founder and Publisher of Courier Newsroom and CEO of Good Information Inc, a civic incubator that invests in immediate solutions to counter disinformation online. A former political strategist with an early career in journalism, Tara has seen firsthand how America’s information crisis has contributed to the rising threat of authoritarianism and the deterioration of social trust.



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Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInStitcherSpotify,  Amazon Music,  AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

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