The concepts of “disinformation” and “misinformation” have been at the forefront of public discourse in recent years. We are in the midst of active information campaigns being waged by lobbying groups, governments and media actors to shape public perceptions and narratives. It will ultimately influence the electoral and legislative landscape.
War is an extension of politics, and it would be naive to think that we are in anything other than an information war. These active measures span the spectrum from overt paid ad campaigns and genuine pleas from advocates across the political spectrum to seeded news stories and fabrications.
The anti-gun crowd regularly claims the moral and intellectual high ground, but we know they don’t feel compelled to be honest in the discussion. You will be able to use the following as a resource to help you detect and counter anti-gun talking points and amplify our side of the story in the public discussion.
Misleading the Public
In an organized information campaign, the goal is to push your side of the story to the audience and to degrade the opposing side’s reach and credibility by sowing doubt and division. It helps to understand three common tools of information campaigns: disinformation, misinformation and malinformation.
Disinformation is messaging spread with deliberate intent to deceive. To work, disinformation needs reach and credibility; people have to see the message and find it plausible.
Misinformation is false information shared without intent to mislead. Imagine an unwitting victim sharing a fake news story, unintentionally building its reach and credibility. People do this all the time on social media without realizing it.
Malinformation is true but normally private information revealed to harm an adversary’s reputation. These messages include leaks and hidden recordings of the victim. While trickery might seem appealing, the most powerful weapons in messaging campaigns tend to be true and compelling stories.
The anti-gun lobby and media groups have advanced a strategy to make the pro-gun community appear crazy, dangerous and paranoid. They exploit tragedies to make us appear callous, reckless and “tone-deaf.” By consistently pressing these narrative points, the anti-gun advocates have tried to drive a wedge between our community and the rest of the country. They want us out on the fringe and out of the discussion.
Too Many to Count
We can drive ourselves crazy identifying all of the inaccurate news reports about guns. They are easy to spot, and I’ve addressed in the past how those opposed to guns deceptively frame and distort statistics to make the problem sound worse than it is. Johns Hopkins University awkwardly inserted Michael Bloomberg’s last name in front of its school of public health’s name, and he just so happens to be an outspoken advocate for gun control. The school undoubtedly mass-produces slanted “academic research” on “gun violence” that will conveniently align with its arguments.
We have addressed the blatant logical fallacies that anti-gunners use to mislead the public. You can probably think of three or four examples of those misleading claims right now. For example, Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety exaggerated the number of school shootings in 2018 — a lie so bald that even The Washington Post cried foul.1 But we don’t want to get sucked into a quagmire of endless fact-checking. Partly, even commenting on a misleading post can help give it the click traffic it needs to reach a wider audience.
The best countertactic is to advance our side of the story in a meaningful, approachable and credible way. When you see claims that the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murder was somehow faked, or that a kid at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was a paid actor, know that the anti-gun crowd salivates at stories like that. Those stories get signal-boosted by the opposition because they are opportunities to break the pro-gun community’s public credibility. We must always be cognizant of the fact that we are in an information- and message-contested environment. The other side probably isn’t going to fake a school shooting; they don’t have to. Their messaging is already primed for the next attack.
We have to advance our side of the narrative. We have to capture and share images of how positive guns are in the community. Allies need to tell stories of how guns function as equalizers and fail-safes for women, marginalized persons, disaster victims and people with disabilities. Let’s share details of how hard sportsmen work to keep the wild lands wild. We need to talk about hunters donating their meat to food banks. And we need to make sure as many people as possible hear about successful defensive gun uses. You have power in this fight. You can like and share tales of inspiring women in the shooting sports world — McKenna Geer, Ginny Thrasher and Julie Golob come to mind — on social media platforms. All of this builds our credibility. It helps close the gap the anti-gunners are trying to force between our community and the rest of the country.
The truth is powerful. Our stories are powerful. We face a challenge to lead the rest of our community in this democracy, and to do that well, we need credibility and reach.
(1) John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich, “No, There Haven’t Been 18 School Shootings in 2018. That Number Is Flat Wrong,” The Washington Post, Feb. 15, 2018, WashingtonPost.com/local/no-there-havent-been-18-school-shooting-in-2018-thatnumber-is-flat-wrong/2018/02/15/65b6cf72-1264-11e8-8ea1-c1d91fcec3fe_story.html.
Doyle is a concerned citizen and gun-rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of his or any other agency. References and links to other gun advocacy sites do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached by email at [email protected].