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  • Writer's pictureMichael Padilla-Pagan Pay

The Distinction Between Fake Experts and the Truth

It is truly incredible as Social media has been the “big game changer” in the loss of context to evaluate the trustworthiness. In the world of fake news and disinformation, everyone is a self-proclaimed expert. Popularity and self-promotion have replaced knowledge and experience as indicators of expertise. I am seeing and reading things and this so called Fake experts really lack , what I would look for as a experts, things like Competence, integrity/honesty, credibility and track record are all important but so too is benevolence which is when someone is disposed to act in the interests of others and show good will towards people. But as we can see people peddle their personal opinions as expert advice in all areas, from foreign policy and finance to sports, beauty, and entertainment.

Let us all face it, social media has made the fake news and disinformation problem significantly worse. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter are great at making voices heard – but lack a filter for distinguishing fact from fiction, and opinion from expert advice.

“Social influencers,” in the form of security and risk experts , lifestyle coaches, daily vloggers, and beauty, fashion, and travel bloggers, amongst others, tell followers what to eat and wear, how to exercise and apply makeup, where to go and stay, and more generally, how to live a certain lifestyle. And their advice is largely accepted, due to high follower counts, the enviable lives they portray, and, often, sheer good looks.

The vast majority lack formal education, training or comprehensive knowledge in their fields of expertise, Travel Risk Management companies for example live in the UK or Italy but rarely have a true understating of places like Egypt, Kenya, DRC, nor do they actually working and understand the cultural issues in those countries – we just let them decide for us what services or solution or travel advise to take, but rarely are the honest with the customer, who is actually taking care of them on the ground, or how to even contact them. The list goes on.

Many of these people became “Insta-famous” overnight, without reason and without qualification, but we listen to their advice like it’s divinely inspired. They are neither journalists nor researchers; their posts are not the product of detailed investigative work, but we trust them like it is – and that’s a huge mistake. Online “experts” aren’t giving us advice – they are making sales pitches. Their platforms are a source for income, where they make millions by selling us things that they got for free. The irony is, the more we take their “advice,” the more money they earn, free meals they get to eat, and complimentary hotels they are offered.

Did you buy that protein shake your favorite fitness personality claimed was life changing? That’s money in his pocket. Did you follow the world traveler with hundreds of scenic posts, probably uploaded straight from Google Images? She is using your follow to convince airlines and hotels to let her travel for free. And when you book the same hotel or use the traveler’s insurance she did? She’ll get 5% back from both your purchases.

Not every product or place these influencers endorse is “the best ever.” Yet thousands are still buying.

And so now let also look at traditional brand of “experts” – academics, journalists, former politicians, and retired military officials. We assume these individuals have something special to offer, given their popularity, experiences and credentials. Some of these traditional experts do have real experience and knowledge, however, their advice is often accepted as though it is both unbiased and without error, which is a huge problem. We also believe, incorrectly, that these individuals are our best and brightest, when the truth is, they are just well connected. Much of their stature simply comes from the access they have attained.

Take, for example, the revolving door of political appointees, lobbyists, consultants, and strategists. Federal employees are re-shuffled into private sector positions at various institutions with each partisan shift of the government. These positions simply provide a comfortable salary and a platform to leverage until the next election to attract enough attention to eventually be recycled back into the federal government. They are not necessarily experts of government and policy, rather they managed to win their seats based on popularity, namely popularity of their messages – which don’t have to be acted on.

Just like today’s social influencers, traditional experts work hard to increase the number of followers and get their names mentioned in media outlets. That means much of what you read about them or hear them say is largely for ratings. Even when they have nothing new to say, which is often, they come up with something, no matter how insignificant, and then re-wrap and sell to you as a great new idea. In the popularity contests of leading experts, it’s most effective to be “provocative” and “controversial,” even if the commentary lacks any real substance or real-life applicability.

The same is true of retired flag officers. After serving their 20-plus years and moving up the ranks, we for some reason think they are worthy of a high-salaried job in the private sector or public office. More often than not, they lack the experience and credentials to be successful in either. In other cases, retired officers have found themselves providing an advisory service for foreign governments, allies of the U.S., based on the perceived expertise which most of the general population has not experienced.

And so, I write this more about my field, were companies and people should push back to these “experts.” People are getting sick of self-serving, elites who tell them what to do and how to think. People are tired of the constant stream of senseless information used for self-promotion, political favors, and kickbacks. Traditional media is now referred to as “fake news.” The number of non-establishment candidates continues to rise as resentment against politicians increases and other elites, are being “ousted” from positions of power more and more frequently.

It’s time for “experts” to start thinking seriously about the advice they give. People in positions of authority aren’t always the brightest, and they don’t always know what’s best. They may simply be individuals with the access and resources to make people believe that their opinions are somehow legitimate.

It’s time for people to start looking to new channels for information. Perhaps it’s time we find solutions from the people on-the-ground, who are getting their hands dirty, and who, more importantly, understand the lives and needs of fellow citizens. Al Thuraya Holdings and its affiliated companies strives to be a company that does just that. We amplify the voices of ordinary people in place we work, Africa, Middle east, Latin Americana and Asia, rather than just pushing top-down advice as self-serving, out-of-touch “expertise.”

Nevertheless, this case demonstrates the sheer power of disinformation – an old concept, though somehow became popularized by President Trump who banked his campaign on the danger and spread of ‘fake news’. It illustrates how social influencers that offer personal opinions or flat-out lies as expert advice, and the extent to which their followers believe, and even act on, the faulty advice of these fake experts.

To be fair, social influencers couldn’t make the claims that they do, if the general public had not elevated them to such a status. However, fake experts and failed expertise have become fully entrenched in our social landscape – and we have not yet developed methods to regulate this flood of disingenuous information in a reliable way. Until we do, a healthy dose of skepticism is recommended, both in preventing the rise of disinformation campaigns by our political leaders, the popularity of false experts and in lessening the damage from failed expertise.

We would be pragmatic and sensible to remember that in a society where so called “experts” are the norm, their advice often does more harm to the common good.

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