Manipulative messaging is expected to spike as the 2024 election heats up.
Can a different approach to combatting it save American democracy?
PITTSBURGH, Sept. 18, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — An unlikely alliance of thinkers and activists has developed a “freedom friendly” approach to cleaning up the information environment. Rather than de-platform the producers of sketchy information, the CIRCE-led Mental Immunity Project (MIP) comes at the problem from the other end: by empowering the consumers of information.
“The concept is simple,” says Andy Norman, the Project’s Chief Catalyst. “We can teach people how to spot and ignore manipulative messaging and, in this way, de-pollute the infosphere from the bottom up.”
“If you try to regulate the market for sketchy information at the supply end,” explains Norman, “you tend to trample on speech rights. You invite Orwellian outcomes.” The real alternative, he says, is to address the problem at the demand end. “We need a citizen-powered movement to ‘tame the crazy,'” he says. “When we get better at spotting nonsense, we deprive nonsense-peddlers of their power over us; it’s the right way to win back our precious freedoms.”
The initiative draws from a science that is advancing rapidly. “We call it cognitive immunology,” says Norman. “We’re learning how people process misinformation: why some people spot and shed it easily, why others are taken in, and how we can help everyone become resistant to mind-manipulation.”
MIP arrives at a pivotal moment. For Big Tech is reportedly surrendering to disinformers: tired of being accused of censorship, social media companies are increasingly refusing to clean up the toxic information environments they helped create. Experts expect disinformation peddlers to continue exploiting the situation: propagandists will weaponize baseless allegations; foreign influence operations will sow division; political consultants will roll out smear campaigns. “Digital tools have made it easier to ‘hack’ other people’s minds,” says Norman. “This leaves our democracy—and our freedoms—on thin ice.”
Enter the Mental Immunity Project. It turns scientific insights into tools anyone can use to level up their thinking skills. Or help others develop theirs. “When you understand what healthy mental immune function looks like,” says Norman, “your critical thinking skills can develop rapidly.” Norman calls MIP’s learning materials “the best resources anywhere for developing 21st century thinking skills.”
“Our collective ability to filter BS can also evolve rapidly,” adds Melanie Trecek-King, the Project’s Education Director. “The trick is to revitalize the norms of accountable talk. Where accountable talk is normalized, susceptibility to mind-infections declines.”
Project participants learn the basics of mental immunity cultivation here. Each pledges to do their part; mostly, this involves using a special kind of questioning to spot problematic information—and help others spot it. “Together,” says Trecek-King, “we can clean up the information ecosystem—one productive conversation at a time.”
Contact: A. Norman