How misinformation and disinformation impact tribal sovereignty

OklahomaPoliticsTechnologyCommunity Indigenous
Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 11/19/2021, 4:09 AM
Edited: 11/25/2021, 5:15 PM

(MUSCOGEE NATION) False information is a global problem that ignites tempers and divides communities. 

During his interview for “The Social Dilemma”, a film that exposed the polarizing algorithms of social media, former Director of Monetization at Facebook Tim Kendall said he was most afraid of civil war being the result. 

The world watched as that potential manifested during the United States Capitol attack on January 6. 

Muscogee Nation Press Secretary Jason Salsman told us he believes social media can be one of two things.

“It can be a really great tool to get information out to your citizen, to be able to communicate effectively your messaging and everything like that,” Salsman said. “But I also think it can be very dangerous if the wrong things are getting out there.”  

He said misinformation and disinformation are no strangers to their citizens. 

Misinformation on social media sort of catches fire a little bit, and I think people on social media tend to gravitate towards maybe negativity a little more than they do positivity,” Salsman said. 

But social media users don’t hold all of the blame. 

Earlier this year, the Washington Post and a former Facebook product manager turned whistleblower exposed harmful practices like the social network algorithms ranking anger five times higher than likes, effectively promoting and even inciting negative emotions in its users. 

While both misinformation and disinformation are false information, misinformation can inadvertently be wrong. Disinformation is intentionally wrong, created by people who are meaning to trick you on purpose, for reasons including garnering personal support or to make others look bad.  

But even worse than citizens sharing troubling content on social media, is when misinformation and disinformation comes from people with actual authority. 

In today’s modern times, Salsman said, false information is a threat to tribal sovereignty. 

I think that we have been unfortunately on the negative end of some misinformation out on social media,” Salsman said. “The sky is falling narrative was used by the state in arguments before the Supreme Court. I don't think anybody is unaware of the fact that those arguments did not win.”

In last year’s McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling, the Supreme Court decided reservations in Oklahoma had never been disestablished by Congress, effectively declaring the state had been trampling all over their rights for more than a century. 

Turning back 116 years in a year and a half is not feasible. We need the time to grow, we need the time to expand, we need the federal support, we need the support of all of our municipalities that surround us in our reservation,” Salsman said. “We need everybody pulling on the same rope, instead of expending all of our energy on being divided and one side going this way and the other side going that way.”

This decision has been awarded, it's the greatest victory for tribal sovereignty in the history of our government as a tribe, and to implement it, we're going to all need to work together."

With receiving correct information more important, and more difficult than ever, VNN recommends keeping the 5 Ws in mind (who, what, why, when, and where) to protect yourself from falling into misinformation and disinformation traps online. 

Who is posting this information? Are they a reliable source? 

As far as the Muscogee Nation is concerned, Salsman told us official government-related updates only come from “The Muscogee Nation” on Facebook, though other departments have their own pages, as well. 

What does the information look like? Are any facts or additional sources listed, or is it just someone’s opinion? If it’s a picture, does it look altered in any way?

Why are they sharing this information? Are they trying to get you to think or feel a certain way?

When did this information first become available? Is it new, or just packaged to look like it’s new? (All information is new at some point, but if it’s something that just popped out of thin air, it’s possible someone made it up.)

And finally, where did the source of information come from? Is it a person who is close to the issue through work or in other ways? Do they just have one profile picture? Was their account just created yesterday?

“We certainly encourage our citizens and want to see our citizens out there providing information on the tribe,” Salsman said. “But I think whenever that information is incorrect, it does a lot more harm than good.”  

For more helpful tips, visit the VNN Media Library.

This story is a part of the Oklahoma Media Center’s Promised Land collaborative effort, which shows how the landmark McGirt v. Oklahoma decision will affect both tribal and non-Indigenous residents in the state.

It is a project of the Local Media Foundation with support from the Inasmuch Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Democracy Fund. 


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