We live in a world of misinformation. Every time I try to forget that, I am faced with some new tweet or declaration by Trump whose only leadership quality appears to be the domination of this art form.
The ease with which false or misleading news and conspiracy theories are divulged is commonly attributed to social media outlets. While they are no doubt main contributors to the trend, they are by no means the only culprits.
Take ITV news and their renowned political correspondent Robert Peston. A couple of nights ago when asked on the 6:30 pm (GMT) news how the current market crisis is different than the one in 2008-2009, his answer, delivered in characteristically authoritative tones and theatrical prose, was that this one reflects ‘real fear’ whereas the earlier version was – we could all clearly see it – ‘financial’ in nature.
I remember the 2008-2009 crisis very well and I can guarantee that the markets behaved in a manic fashion. Clarity on events was nonexistent, panic was rampant, and fear was so palpable that even seasoned managers in the financial world were behaving and talking like complete idiots. This is not to say that from a direct human point of view the coronavirus epidemic is not more terrifying. Still, while no one can put a value on a single human life, the nature of the financial consequences today versus 2008 is very similar: unpredictable, destabilizing, painful and with dire results.
Mr. Peston, whether he realizes it or not, does no one a service in making statements like that. He gives the wrong impression that certain financial events are easier to see or predict than others. That’s nonsense and tantamount to spreading misleading and fake ideas, sensationalizing current events, and leaving the audience with a false sense of understanding certain phenomena.
Peston makes the most basic mistake in reviewing historical events: everything is always clear after the fact. Monday-morning quarterbacking and any misinformation should be treated the same way on every medium: whatever punishment we plan to bestow upon social media should also be applied to pompous and self-aggrandizing pundits.
And since we are on the subject of punishment, perhaps we should consider extending the treatment to overzealous marketers who have the guts of sending out invitations like this one (emphasis in original):
In light of this week’s market moves, I thought now might be a good time for you to consider a trial of Xxxxx Economics’ award-winning research.
Unlike other research providers, we truly cover the world – meaning our clients stay one step ahead of the pack.
If you would like a complimentary 2-week trial, please reply to this email highlighting your specific areas of interest from the below list.
Roberto Plaja, March 10, 2020
Cover: Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Crying Girl’, 1963, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/arts/design/fake-art-prints.html [Note: The estate of Roy Lichtenstein says his “Crying Girl,” (1963), an offset lithograph, is one of the artist’s works that forgers have tried to fake most often.]