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‘Disinfo’ claims starting to fly

For months we’ve been warned the election campaign now upon us WILL be adversely affected by ‘misinformation’ [i.e., getting the facts wrong] and ‘disinformation’ [i.e., intentionally misstating the facts] and how the spread of such falsehoods could put our democracy at risk.

These warnings have almost entirely been focused on the output attributed to purveyors of “anti-authority sentiment,” who tend to be described with a range of epithets that are now so over-used as to be rendered largely meaningless.

So it’s hardly surprising that late last week a piece of election-related “disinformation” was leapt on by media before the campaign had even properly kicked off.

What might be, however, is the source of said “disinformation” – the party that’s been the government for the past three years.

As reported by Newshub, Labour was called out for a social media post that stated, “A National/ACT coalition will not only cut fees free for first-year students, but they will also add interest back on ALL current student loans.”

Whether this was merely a mistake [‘misinformation’] or a deliberate attempt to mislead voters [‘disinformation’] is difficult to accurately assess, but it was definitely false information. Although National has long been highly critical of Labour’s policy of a fees-free first-year tertiary education, it changed its tune a week and a half ago – so it’s possible the social media team just hadn’t got the memo on the new policy position. The claim about adding interest back on all current student loans, however, appears to have been conjured from thin air.

Labour has also been accused of making “Trumpian attacks on truth” regarding ACT’s firearm policy, having claimed in a press release that it will mean “Military Style Guns Back In Communities” if ACT is part of the next government. In response, ACT leader David Seymour has come out with, ahem, guns blazing, noting that more than 5000 people already have legal licenses for such firearms, and adding that there are also a great deal of them already in the community illegally.

To forestall accusations of singling out one party, National has also been in the firing line for illustrating “real life” examples of how its tax policy would help New Zealanders with stock images [i.e., generic photos or illustrations that can be licensed for use in marketing materials and on websites etc], after being caught out using artificial intelligence-generated images in political ads earlier in the year [although the alacrity with which some news outlets jumped on the story was a little ironic, given the use of such images on news stories is not uncommon].

In any case, while the above is no doubt a little embarrassing to all concerned, it was also eminently predictable to anyone who’s not a professional pearl-clutcher.

Elections have always essentially been an extended period of competing sale pitches, and it’s hopelessly naïve to believe that political parties [yes, that includes your ‘team’ too] are above being loosey-goosey in the way they present their policies and characterise their opponents’.

If you wish to assure yourself that various political claims are on the up and up [and you really should], the same advice applies as with any information – don’t take their word for it, check primary sources.

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