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Online vs. Reality

How one cartoon holds the key to building your misinformation strategy.

By now, many of us are aware of the threats that Artificial Intelligence may pose to our job security. But have you ever come across a cartoon so good, you feared it might put you out of a job? Well that’s recently been me. 
Introducing this epic work from the New Yorker:

A perfect example of what I try to support our clients with every day: understanding that we shouldn’t assume that online backlash means there’s a public consensus against us in reality.

Thankfully, there are – as a result of the alarming growing epidemic of mis and disinformation – still plenty of things Lynn’s Misinformation Cell can do for our clients that this cartoon cannot. Yet  that key message it so succinctly depicts, I have to confess, probably the most important piece of advice we routinely give to our clients.

Why that advice?

Here are  three examples of where the ‘online noise’ and backlash is dangerously misrepresenting the real picture and if that isn’t understood, could lead organisations, individuals, brands, policy leaders to respond in a way that only serves to fuel – versus quell – the disruption. 

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN) are designed to reduce traffic flow and pollution through specific regions within a town or city. This discourages residents from using their cars and creates a safer, healthier environment for pedestrians and cyclists. LTNs are part of a broader range of measures designed to help us reduce pollution and carbon emissions in our urban areas. And the criticism has been intense.

Mis/disinformation ranged from social media trolls to political point scorers. In some places, it’s gotten so bad that many decision makers have started to question whether the public really does buy into these disinformation narratives after all.


But what happens when we look offline, to understand whether the overwhelmingly negative sentiment on social media actually resonates with public attitudes?


Well, generally speaking, there is a widespread consensus that governments should be doing more to address the climate crisis. Indeed, research from More In Common found that in the United Kingdom:

  • 83% of 18-29 year olds worry about climate change, dropping to 72% among older age groups
  • Building a ‘Green’ future for the United Kingdom was the top priority among all British audiences, coming higher in their list of priorities than ‘Fair’, ‘Democratic’ and ‘Hard-working’
  • The one area where they identify more work to be done is in explaining the benefits of climate positive policies, rather than simply emphasising the dangers of climate change (21% see the benefits, 36% don’t see any effect, and 17% think they’re negative)

With regards to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods specifically, a government survey on attitudes from residents within four schemes (Birmingham, Bournemouth, Ipswich and Salford) 2021 found:

  • Respondents residing in LTNs agreed that governments should act to increase road safety (90%), improve air quality (89%), reduce traffic congestion (89%) and reduce traffic noise (80%)
  • Respondents supported the reduction in traffic (79%) and the reallocation of space for cycling/walking (69%) in their local area
  • Business owners were more likely to oppose the schemes (42%) than non-business business owners (28%)

So the situation absolutely is not as bleak or one sided as the online debate leads you to possibly believe. 

However, it’s really important to note here, that even if it isn’t as bad in reality as online activity implies, this virtual noise does and will have real world impact: threats, harassment, and paralysis among key decision makers are just some of the outcomes, with  Oxford’s anti-LTN protests as a recent prime example. 

So what do you do? The hard thing, but the right thing. Remember that actions that produce noise – which at their heart are in the best interests of ALL our audiences – may be exactly what most of our audiences want from us; not just the noisy few online.

Lockdown sceptics and anti-vaxxers

Lockdown scepticism, and broader conspiracy theories about the government measures and interventions, was a familiar challenge for those addressing mis/disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. 



The online noise around these movements was, at times, deafening. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the British public as a whole were opposed to any measures and that vaccine uptake was dangerously low. 

Yet in reality when we tuned into public attitudes, we found that :

  • Even as public trust in the Conservative government fell, most publics were still very receptive to measures to temporarily limit personal freedoms
  • Prominent lockdown sceptic – and Twitter celebrity – Laurence Fox lost his deposit in the London mayoral elections after only achieving 1.9% of votes

President Biden 

In the lead up to the 2020 US Presidential Election, there were numerous polls and predictions that showed a tight race. Ultimately, however, it was Joe Biden who emerged as the winner.

But  many people thought Joe Biden would lose to Trump. Concerns were abound about voter turnout, the effectiveness of his campaign, and whether he would be able to appeal to swing voters in key states. Amplification of these concerns Biden’s online opposition fooled many people into thinking that there was an offline consensus against him.


The online opposition to Biden was fueled by disinformation campaigns, fake news, and social media bots that spread false information about the candidate. This created a sense of fear and uncertainty among some voters and pundits, who believed that the negative sentiment online was an accurate reflection of how people felt offline. 


To counteract the misinformation, Joe Biden’s campaign team took a proactive and positive approach to disinformation. Subtle yet effective, this approach helped shift the focus away from negative attacks and towards a more positive message and we all know who came out on top.

Overall, the 2020 US Presidential Election serves as another reminder of the importance of not adopting  online sentiment as reflective of offline sentiment. While social media and online communities can be powerful tools for shaping public opinion, they are not always an accurate reflection of how people feel in the real world. Therefore it is hyper important to to be courageous in reviewing information we see online with a critical lens, and to take the time to fact-check and verify claims before accepting them as true.

So what is the outcome of mis/disinformation? Does it disrupt our/your work?

Mis and disinformation tends to disrupt work in three ways:

  • It creates social proof (a false sense of consensus) around harmful beliefs (primary)
  • It distracts, draining our resources (secondary)
  • It instils fear and paralysis (secondary)

How is mis/disinformation disrupting your work? Is it really about public opinion? 

Perhaps what you’re experiencing arei the secondary effects which require less public rebuttal and more internal communications and engagement.

At Lynn, we’re here to support you in understanding, navigating and responding effectively to mis and disinformation, before, during and after crisis / disruption / damage may occur. If you’d like to know more about how we do this, and how it can support you please contact us here

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