Contact Dr. Nuurrianti Jalli: [email protected]
Studies on information disorder tend to overlook the influence of cultural background on information flow and information processing.
In this article, I will discuss how cultural factors can influence misinformation based on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory proposed by social psychologist Geert Hofstede. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication that shows the influence of a society’s culture on the values of its members and how these values relate to behavior, using a structure derived from factor analysis.
Although originally, the theory was proposed to assist in understanding the differences in culture across countries and to discern how business is done across different cultures, the same concept can also be applied to understand how information consumption and interpretation affect how information flow within society. Hofstede discusses several dimensions in his theory: power distance index, collectivism vs. individualism, uncertainty avoidance index, femininity vs. masculinity, short-term vs. long-term orientation, and restraint vs. indulgence. For our discussion on information disorder, I will focus specifically on three dimensions that I argue are relevant in understanding how information disorder can differ between cultures.
Power distance index
CThe power distance index denotes the extent to which inequality and power differences are tolerated in society. For this dimension, inequality and power are observed from the viewpoint of the followers. The power distance index suggests that people in societies exhibiting a large degree of power distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and needs no further justification. In societies with low power distance, people strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power. In the context of information disorder, powerful entities (religious leaders, people in power, social influencers) influence information consumption – people tend to believe in information shared by people with power. For example, this could be seen in many countries, where misinformed religious leaders campaign against the COVID-19 vaccine, convincing their loyal followers to reject vaccination.
Individualism vs. collectivism
The individualism vs. collectivism dimension indicates the degree to which societies are integrated into groups and their perceived obligations and dependence on groups. Individualism can be defined as a preference for a loosely knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. On the other hand, collectivism represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular ingroup to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether their self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.”
Information flow easier in collectivist societies (be it accurate or inaccurate information). Interactions happen not only through media but also through community gatherings. When a society is close-knit, it can go both ways, good and bad. If good/reliable information is shared with people, they believe it will help reach more people. Look at the COVID-19 phenomenon in the eastern region (hemisphere). When mask mandate was issued, we adhere to orders, with much lesser resistance than in individualistic societies as we value society members. We believe we are a part of a larger group, and our actions will impact other members of society. Western culture (individualistic) prefers autonomy and believes in individual choices. At times they are more critical about things and create higher resistance toward certain information/issues. Like collectivism, this also a double-edged sword, where it can be good and bad. While individualism potentially has a lower chance of being influenced by group decisions (unlike collectivism), individualistic society has a higher resistance to information (including accurate information). A lot of convincing efforts are needed to influence individualistic society (look at mask mandate in the US).
High context vs. low context culture
High-context cultures are those that communicate in ways that are implicit (gestures, insinuations) and rely heavily on context. In contrast, low-context cultures rely on explicit (straightforward) verbal communication. Eastern cultures tend to be high context cultures, so we communicate not only through spoken or written words but also the use of gestures and insinuations. If people of the same culture speak to one another, using gestures and insinuation would be sufficient to convey meaning. But for the western culture that tends to be of low context, communication tends to be explicit and straightforward. Misinformation and miscommunication can happen, especially when two different cultures communicate with one another without acknowledging the differences in communication styles. For example, suppose international journalists are to cover stories in Eastern countries. In that case, these journalists have to be aware of the communication differences that exist due to cultural variances, potentially leading to misinterpretation of meanings.
Dealing with errors caused by cultural factors
Understanding that culture has a degree of influence over content consumption and interpretation and affecting how information flow within society - we must be more culturally sensitive, especially when we serve as information providers to the public. When communicating with new people, especially from different cultures, we have to be aware that there could be dissimilarities in how we perceive certain issues and how we process information.
To avoid error or misinterpretation, strive for more direct communication, and always reconfirm information with the informant or source before deciding whether or not that piece of information is legitimate and could be shared with other people. Especially for media people and journalists, when we cover stories from other cultures, errors could happen when journalists are not culturally sensitive and misinterpret information. News published is sometimes taken out of context, albeit quoting sources word-by-word, which leads to misinformation. Cultural training should be a part of mandatory training for media people and even for the general public as the world has become a lot smaller due to the Internet. As we communicate with people from different cultures daily on Internet platforms, it is common sense for everybody to be more culturally literate to avoid miscommunication and misinformation.
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