Storytelling Dynamics and Misinformation: the Bad S-DIKW Framework
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
We all love a good story, and storytelling is a central way that humans share experiences, from what happened at work or school today to the most meaningful moments of our lives. We tell stories about everything, from what we know to be true to what we fear might happen someday, and stories always involve emotional engagement. How do we know if a story is accurate or inaccurate, rational or exaggerated, correct or misleading, especially when an untrue story may be more gripping than the truth? When misinformation is spreading as people retell fake stories, stopping it requires a better understanding of how stories work and what specific information errors lead to the crafting—deliberate or accidental—of compelling misinformation stories.
Storytelling and information in story form are a ubiquitous but under appreciated aspect of human information communications. Telling true stories, or truthful storytelling, requires a set of abilities for transforming data or information into story form, which can be related to various levels of the DIKW hierarchy (Rowley 2007). Telling an informative story requires a set of interpretive abilities (McDowell 2021a). Rather than each level being a descriptor of content, in the storytellling or S-DIKW framework, each level relates to human abilities to derive stories from data, to interpret data with context as information stories, to take action based on those information stories, and to enact wisdom in the selection of stories (McDowell 2021).
- S-Data: Basis of information in story
- S-Information: Data interpretation with context as story
- S-Knowledge: Actionable information in story
- S-Wisdom: Which story to tell when, how, to whom, and more
S-Data and S-Information are facts and their interpretation in story. S-Knowledge related to what a story implies that people should do. In relation to S-Wisdom, this definition is only partial, but provides a launching point for information fields to more actively and deliberately grapple with wisdom as a concept.
—Understanding where the story goes wrong in misinformation storytelling can point the way to where to intervene.—
Understanding where the story goes wrong in misinformation storytelling can point the way to where to intervene. The Bad S-DIKW Framework is an extension of the S-DIKW framework, which introduced a way of thinking about storytelling as the abilities to interpret data as information in story form, knowledge as stories that show actionable information, and wisdom as a broader context of why or how to act and which stories to tell. (McDowell 2021a; McDowell 2021b; McDowell 2021c). This framework provides a systematic way of understanding what has gone wrong with the interpretation of information in story form, from unwittingly mistaken stories (Calo et al. 2021) to actively disinforming propaganda. This categorization system is part of a broader project on health misinformation detection and public health response, empowering public health professionals as factual storytellers for their communities. “When people are sharing/posting/retweeting/etc., the teller-audience-story dynamic means that people are sharing ways of making sense, whether accurate or misinformed. Storytelling explains aspects of current crises in truth that have challenged prior AI and human interception efforts.” (Brooks et al. 2022) The Bad S-DIKW framework aims to target what aspect of false information in story form is compelling both belief and retelling. Developing systematic approaches to stopping misinformation may rely upon systematic understandings of where the story has gone wrong.
People sharing bad information typically participate in an online process that relates closely to storytelling. The story emerges in the dynamic exchange between the tellers and the audience. (McDowell 2020; Baker and Greene 1977) On social media, images or quotations are re-posted, sometimes including the user’s own commentary (from interpretation of to outrage about) on the bad information. Examining specific misinformation sharing or story retelling patterns serves as a second and complementary way of thinking about locating factual errors. Since misunderstandings and beliefs are often rooted in information conveyed in story form, it is important to identify the types of errors that occur in the process of turning information into story. Identifying the level of they error provides context for how the information must be targeted during the mitigation process
- Bad S-Data: Evoking cultural cues that imply factuality for data that is false
- Bad S-Information: False data with context that misinforms in story
- Bad S-Knowledge: Stories based on false information that lead to ineffective or harmful actions
- Bad S-Wisdom: Reactivity that leads to retelling misinformation as story without checking sources in ways that amplify harm
Errors at this level are the easiest to correct in that is is possible to show whether data are truthful, reflecting the best available evidence, or false. Correcting these errors typically involves revealing how data have been manipulated or misrepresented in data visualization. While it can be challenging to prove that specific data have been fabricated, it is possible to demonstrate through fact-checking that a story is based on bad S-Data. Storytelling based on bad S-Data is relatively easy to debunk by showing that the basis of the information in the story is wrong.
Errors at the S-Information level involve inaccurate interpretation. The data on which the interpretation is based may be sound and verifiable, but the way they are interpreted as information is mistaken, and so wrong or false. There are many ways this can occur, but a few common examples are making a hasty generalization, wrongly presuming causality, or circular reasoning. (Almossawi 2014). Debunking bad information is slightly more difficult because information is a matter of interpretation of data and interpretation can vary. However, it is possible to intervene at this level by showing logical fallacies at the level of the rhetoric or argumentation.
S-Knowledge errors entail understandings of what one should do based on information. Again, both data and information may be sound, but the understanding of what they mean and therefore what action should be taken based on this information can be entirely wrong, mistaken, or false. For example, a new treatment for a disease may be promising, but without clinical trials it would be bad S-Knowledge to administer it as standard treatment. This level is commonly manipulated in disinformation because it overlays accurate data and reasonable information with reactive or otherwise emotionally intense (fearful, angry, blaming, etc.) ideas about what should be done, often couched in accusations of what “they” want “us” to think or similarly defensive and isolating rhetoric.
Simply put, errors at this level go against civil, ethical, or moral norms of human dignity and decency. If an example of bad S-Knowledge is blaming a particular group for some form of economic or social distress, then bad S-Wisdom is suggesting or stating that this group should be annihilated. This is the level of turning anger into dehumanization, and it sets the stage for social crises from legalized discrimination to internment camps. The ultimate end of bad S-Wisdom is genocide, and it is important to remember that the emotional content of bad s-knowledge is a step in this direction. White supremacist organizations operate at the level of bad s-wisdom, and this level is extremely difficult to debunk as the premises of equality and equity among human beings are not shared by bad actors who rely on bad S-Wisdom.
Potential for Correcting Misinformation
Understanding what precisely is wrong with bad information in story form may prove complementary to other approaches that focus on attuning efforts depending on how deeply individuals believe misinformation. “As we develop and evaluate correction strategies, we will want to consider different approaches for correcting a false belief versus trying to change a potentially harmful conviction.” (Calo et al. 2021) The Bad S-DIKW framework offers a way of stepping back from the level of an individual’s belief or conviction level. The potential for correcting misinformation rests with identifying if the error is factual (bad S-Data or bad Information), relation to what actions should be taken (bad S-Knowledge) or based in ethically or morally corrupt social views (bad S-Wisdom). Focusing on storytelling as an information behavior reveals the ways that stories can go wrong.
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Cite this article in APA as: McDowell, K. (2023, April 6). Storytelling dynamics and misinformation: The bad S-DIKW framework. Information Matters, Vol. 3, Issue 4. https://informationmatters.org/2023/04/storytelling-dynamics-and-misinformation-the-bad-s-dikw-framework/