The Devil’s Questions About Misinformation: Can Disinformation Campaigns Be Ethical and Lead to a Better Society?

The question of ethical disinformation campaigns seems like a straightforward one, with a resounding no as the best possible answer. Unfortunately, I am not here today to provide a solution to this problem, only to set the pace for a more extended and more nuanced conversation.

The Devil Unbound: Questions about ethical disinformation
Photo by Julia Filirovska
Long question.

If the main point of learning to think critically is to increase your happiness levels, and if disinformation is the main contributor to unhappiness in society, is a disinformation scheme that makes people happy an ethical endeavour?

I have many questions today.

I’ll explain now that validating the spread of misinformation isn’t the point of this loose write-up. On the contrary, it’s about challenging your perception of a complex issue.

Would you, for example, endorse a disinformation campaign that persuaded people to eat more healthily, and in so doing, increase levels of social well-being?

After all, the point of such an operation would be to counter all the misinformation put forth by the fast-food industry, which has led to numerous health risks worldwide.

Can you think about it as a kind of information warfare in which the good guys use the same weapons as the bad guys?

Yes, I know how the saying about the road to my house goes, and you have a valid point in invoking it here, but go with me on this one for a bit longer.

The Devil Unbound: Ethical disinformation
Photo by Sinitta Leunen

Imagine a light-propaganda campaign that causes people to become more informed about their respective politics and mobilise to the polls? Could such an enterprise balance the political landscape? Could it prevent grave mistakes in choosing a country’s leader?

I understand that this is a slippery slope and a tough one to negotiate at that. It poses other questions like where to draw the line.

The philosophical and psychological logistics of such endeavours seem impossible on the surface. My intention here is far more abstract than any possible answer.

I want to know if you would do it if you could manage these possibilities.
The Devil Unbound: The moral implications of ethical disinformation

The moral implications also appear unmanageable after simple analysis. Perhaps a Kantian approach is necessary to reconcile the negative undertone of disinformation with its power to move people to action. Should a solution to this problem consider what ought to be for the benefit of society, more than what it already is because of disinformation tactics used by the “wrong” side?

Again, if the intention is to increase happiness levels individually and in society at large, are any means to that end justified?

The point to consider is the size and power of the hideous and threatening monster that misinformation is today.


How do we fight something so powerful?

How do we stop something that has built momentum for centuries, if not with an immovable object?

As I said in my opening statement, I do not claim to have the answers to these questions. I do, however, worry that democracy and civilisation, in general, need help to combat an enemy that could bring them to their end.

I’ll ask the same question in a different tone: If the survival of something you hold dear depended on you telling a lie, would you tell it?

— The Devil Unbound.

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