Language of Misinformation

Words by Izabela (she/her), 23 ACT

Between the divisive and plentiful opinions on COVID-19, and the AI generated images of the pope in a white puffer jacket and matching latte, it can be incredibly overwhelming, entertaining, and downright confusing to navigate the internet today.

As young people, most of us engage with social media and the internet in some way on a daily – or even hourly – basis. Whether you’re concerned about the credibility of news getting shared into the family group chat, or how the rise of AI technology will influence the world of secondary and tertiary studies, it’s more important than ever to understand where information is coming from, what’s influencing it, and who it impacts upon clicking ‘send’ or ‘share.’

Whilst conversations of misinformation and disinformation usually consider age as the discriminating factor, it may not be the most significant one. The social environment and background of individuals may play a much larger role in their exposure to ‘alternative truths.’

Australia, a nation globally recognised for being one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse communities in the world, has a population of over 25,422,788, where over 27.6% were born overseas (2021 Census, ABS). The top 5 most spoken languages other than English used at home are Mandarin, Arabic, Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Punjabi (ABS). They are amongst many other language and dialects, including those not captured well or at all by census data due to accessibility, failings of the questionnaires, or language barriers themselves.

The diversity and richness of the Australian, and global, community is important to recall as we collectively navigate the changing dynamics, nuances and challenges of information-sharing in a world of rising disinformation, misdirection, and uncertainty. But why take a focussed analysis to our culturally and linguistically diverse populations?

Sometimes, in highly diverse and populated multilingual nations, it can be common to see everyday signage, documents, and even performances, transcribed in some of the most highly spoken languages of a community. This is more common in places where there are high levels of tourism and / or where English is not the primary language.

In Australia, there are many in our diverse, multicultural communities, who even if living here for an extended period of time, may be experiencing a vast gap in the day-to-day volume and diversity of information they receive from different news sources and mediums (on and offline) compared to their English-speaking counterparts.

If you were to tally up all of the ways you intake information and/or news in one day – speaking to family and friends, overhearing conversations on public transport, talking to your barista, reading advertising, buying a newspaper, etc. – you begin to see how diverse your network of information and access to it is.

Compare this to someone with a much smaller network. Someone who experiences barriers in not only the volume and type, but also quality of information, news, and media they are exposed to on a day-to-day basis. Here, you begin to see how it is not just a matter of potentially missing key pieces or reputable sources, but it’s also about not being presented with enough to be able to undertake a critical analysis, where you can compare opinions, contexts, and biases to come to an informed position. Concepts of echo-chambers, isolation, and prejudice become particularly relevant here.

Then consider the added layers of migration history, fractured psycho-social experiences, intergenerational trauma, backgrounds of living in nations where there is an inherent distrust or antagonist relationship with government and media, or cultural or socio-economic barriers to education, freedom, or opportunities. How might these nuances impact how we perceive the world and media, and how we engage with the information presented to us, and the source presenting it?

There are many being left behind in the conversations of emerging tech; what the threats are, and how it will impact their daily lives.

In this moment of reflection, our society should look to engage beyond a box-ticking exercise that says, ‘yep – we’ve had a conversation, that’s sorted.’ Instead, we must highlight these challenges experienced by members of multicultural, diverse or marginalised communities, and enact meaningful change.

This issue is one of many on our list of ‘things we need to do to stop the world from falling apart before my grandkids can see it,’ but that doesn’t negate its importance.

So where can we meet this doom and gloom with some outcomes-oriented fervour?

As are the foundations to all good solutions, we have the dietary staples of the policy and project management world – consultation, communication, and collaborative design and delivery. What this looks like in practice is having an awareness of how cultural, historic, linguistic, and socio-economic context influences the way information is received and interpreted. It is also taking an active effort – regardless of the sphere of influence you have in your community– to put in place procedures and structures that allow for access to – and the diffusion of – quality, accurate, and reliable information.

Engaging key members of communities that have the language, cultural skills and influence into cross-cultural, inter-industry, and inter-disciplinary solution-focussed spaces will be the strongest way to reach CALD communities. The goal would then be to up-skill, educate, and empower them with knowledge about misinformation and how to self-advocate in information-exchange focussed spaces.

To address these issues effectively, Australian communities and leaders must not just be aware of, but actively understand, engage with, and utilise, the nation’s unique history and diverse demographic make-up.

In this microcosm, we are presented with a special opportunity to set the precedent to our globalised world, and to other areas of industry, policymaking and design, of the kind of strength and impact that multi-layered, sustainable, and proactive outcomes can have in addressing broad and complex problems.

How can we collectively build knowledge of and resilience to misinformation and disinformation? How do we build better trust and engagement with diverse communities? What role might Australia play as a multicultural, affluent and technologically advanced nation to meet this complex and rapidly growing challenge?

And, most importantly, what are your responsibilities, as an everyday member of your local, national and global community, in shaping the future of information sharing?


Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

Posted in