Structural Antidotes for Misinformation

I missed this post by John Moore Williams when it was first published (March 2020):

It’s no secret that we’ve entered what many are calling the “post-truth” era, with myriad instances of deep fakes, misinformation campaigns, and outright lies popping up, gaining viral traction, and ultimately shaping the decision-making of millions-all too often driven by prominent individuals who will here go unnamed. One of the biggest web design trends of 2020 will be designing truth.

The post proposes a few structural antidotes for misinformation, including clearer labeling — especially of sources — and more mindful relationships between an article’s main body and its related content. It includes some specific directions for the latter:

  • Label content types clearly to help readers create a mental model of your content and better distinguish between organic and promotional materials
  • Contextualize and promote sources so readers know where content comes from and can better evaluate its credibility
  • Use related content to add context and promote nuanced understandings of topics

I found myself nodding to most of this. But to what degree are these business (rather than design) problems?

To wit: the post focuses on advertising-based media — i.e., an industry based on persuasion. Whenever I encounter a website rife with low-rent “content you may like” ads and/or ambiguously attributed content and/or confusing contexts, I don’t immediately wonder about the competency of its designers. Instead, I think about the organization’s misaligned business model.

Information should help people make better decisions. It’s unavoidable: making money by persuading people is in tension with giving them unbiased information.

The most important web design trend of 2020