In the 1990s, U.S. Vice President Al Gore characterized the Internet as an “Information Superhighway.” This metaphor has some utility as we try to understand emerging properties of the global Internet. More recently, an old friend, Judith Estrin, touted the importance of friction in the online environment. She had two things in mind, I believe. The first is that friction slows things down and sometimes that is exactly what is needed to give time to think about the content found on the Internet, especially in social media. Friction also keeps you on the road and not spinning off at every turn. As reports of the deliberate injection of misinformation and disinformation into the Internet continue to escalate, my attention has been drawn to efforts to counter this trend. I went back and re-read the May 2019 report about the Finnish response to information pollution,a which has garnered attention from other countries and organizations concerned about this phenomenon.
The Finnish response centers on critical thinking and teaching citizens of all ages to ask probing questions about information they gather whether online or offline. Propaganda is intended to steer the recipient's thinking into the directions intended by its source. Interestingly, the so-called weaponization of information need not be unidirectional. The disinformation campaigns allegedly conducted by Russia against the U.S., France, and the U.K., for example, were often designed to pit opposing groups against one another for the purpose of disrupting democracy. The propagandists were not interested in one group or another prevailing as much as they wanted to sow distrust of democratic institutions, disrupt rational and civil discourse, and generally increase domestic tensions among groups with potentially conflicting agendas.