Understanding Disinformation, Misinformation, and ‘Eurosplaining’

Over the years, a lot of the coverage and analysis of Eritrea has been quite poor. Among the leading issues has been the huge amount of disinformation and misinformation about the country.

Although often used interchangeably, disinformation and misinformation are actually quite different. The main thing differentiating them is intent. While misinformation is false or inaccurate information and news that are spread, regardless of intent to mislead, disinformation is spreading false or inaccurate information and news with the explicit intent of misleading. Despite this difference, both are problematic.

Beyond muddying the waters and making it difficult to distinguish between what is “real” and “fake”, disinformation and misinformation undermine public and social trust, can contribute to fear, panic, and confusion, can negatively influence the socio-political landscape, and often serve to inflame or exacerbate harmful divisions in society. They also can be very dangerous, even fatal. For instance, several years ago, global organizations noted how misinformation and disinformation were undermining the global response to COVID-19 and jeopardizing measures to control the pandemic.

There are several ways that people can protect themselves from disinformation and misinformation. When teaching topics to students, I try to provide an array of sources so they have a comprehensive and balanced view. Globally, it is a common practice that after seeing a health specialist for some ailment, people will then get a second (or a third and even fourth) opinion. Similarly, in the world of news and social media, one may follow and get information from a diversity of sources. Relying upon a small number of like-minded sources limits the range of material available to people and increases the likelihood of falling victim to disinformation and misinformation.

Second, we all remember the adage taught to us as children that “all that glitters is not gold”, encouraging us to remain cautious and skeptical. Likewise, people should practice skepticism and be aware of the fact that not all things they may see, hear, read, or come across are true. By remaining critical and skeptical, cross-checking sources, keeping their proverbial “guard up”, and understanding that not everything they come across will be true or accurate, people can avoid being misled or fooled by false reports or exaggerated claims.

Another important step that can be taken is that people, especially youth and adolescents, can be offered lessons in digital and media literacy, helping them to learn about how to cross-check sources, judge or evaluate news and information sites, and protect themselves from inaccurate or harmful information.

In addition to disinformation and misinformation, another problem that has remained constant over the years in reporting and analyses of Eritrea is Eurosplaining. Many Eritreans have been on the receiving end of patronizing attempts, sometimes subtle and at other times more egregious, by some non-Eritreans and others not from the region to interpret our experiences, describe our reality, and explain things to us that we already know, solely based on the assumption that they somehow or inherently must know more.

Of course, debate is often good and disagreements are possible. Many different people can and should contribute to the general dialogue and conversation. It is also certainly true that more information and opinions can be positive and useful. An important part of learning, after all, is about sharing and exchange, and we all can grow or improve. However, there are several problems and particularly grating aspects about Eurosplaining.

For one, most of the explanations are deeply misinformed, greatly misguided, or otherwise simply wrong. Second, the various instances of Eurosplaining are for the most part on topics that those of us being explained to have direct lived experience or expertise, or are generally already well-acquainted with. Furthermore, although not always rude and deliberate, Eurosplaining is often unsolicited and delivered in a condescending manner and tone. It sees many of us constantly: being interrupted, cut off, and shut down; spoken above, over, or at; and disqualified, dismissed, or willfully ignored. Look closely and it should not take too long to see that Eurosplaining actually has its roots in the problematic mentality, which may be traced back centuries and that helped to legitimize colonialism, imperialism, and slavery, that Africans are inherently less intelligent and less capable. Thus, suggesting that we are basically ignorant, incompetent, and incapable of sharing or contributing important information or knowledge, the Eurosplainers often pat us on the head while presumptuously telling us, “Be quiet, I simply know much better because of who I am.”

Finally, some humble suggestions. For those on the receiving end of the Eurosplaining: Do not be discouraged or daunted. Instead, continue to share your voice and perspectives. For those doing the Eurosplaining: Pause. Think about the dynamics the power differentials that may be at hand. Consider whether your explanations are needed, really about being helpful, or even desired. Ask more questions and allow others to share their views or express themselves.

Written by Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion

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