What is Bad Information?
Bad Information is information that isn’t quite accurate, not really helpful, or usually both. It could be a million miles off or just a few microns off. In both cases, it’s bad. That means that it isn’t good. Good Information is information we can use as-is to make, fix, do, or learn something right now. We don’t have to get a second, third, or twelfth opinion, we don’t have to balance information from 20 sources. We don’t have to research it for a year. We don’t have to deconstruct and reconstruct Good Information. Good Information is usable now. Bad information gets in the way of us discovering and acting upon the good information.
Bad Information (BI) takes many forms and wears many guises. And in fact, it’s truly everywhere. Think about it. If we were swimming in Good Information, would we have bought that item, taken that job, argued for something a certain way, or voted for that person…you get the idea. We’re neck deep in BI. Now, say it with me… “BI is everywhere!”
BI comes at us from all angles
BI comes at us like water from a fire hose. It’s sent to us in email, it’s on TV, the radio, in the news apps. Friends and family tell us BI. We get it in tweets, and on social media sites. Man! I’m still getting the Nigerian Letter for Christs’ sake.
Good Information is scarce and causes us to rely upon feelings and emotion
In addition to good/bad information, we make decisions based upon emotion and feelings. We almost have to because of the scarcity of Good Information. Take a look at ethos, pathos, and logos, if you’re not familiar. If we were (or could be) more rational and less emotional, we’d base our decisions mostly on information. That’s what I’m talking about here. One could easily argue that because there is so much BI, we’re pretty much forced to rely on emotion and gut feelings.
Some general characteristics of BI
Bad Information can have one or more of these characteristics. You can probably think of more.
- Imprecise, inaccurate
- Purposefully or accidentally false (the author is misleading on purpose or doesn’t know, or can’t know the truth)
- Historical or forward-looking (it may have been true in the past or it might be true in the future)
- Spin, bias, misleading
- Omitted certain key characteristics or facts in order to support one side
- Purely political, propaganda
- Shading of the truth
- White lies, and plain old lies
Examples of BI
Since BI is everywhere, just think about your interactions with others, documentation, products, really anything. You might have had experiences such as:
- The repair shop estimated the repairs to be around $300. They end up being $600
- The Craigslist ad said the item is new. It’s actually five years old and smells of cigarettes
- The piece of paper that came with the item you just bought neglects to tell you how to use the item
- This investment is going through the roof
- If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period.
Bad Information versus Business Intelligence
Business Intelligence permits businesses to grow because they have a handle on their; data, customers, product, price, profitability, market share, workforce, salaries, etc. Business Intelligence is a goal, a business plan, an ideal. And just because its initials are also BI, it should not be confused with BI, Bad Information. It’s also basically the truth described in two words instead of one. Bad Information, from a volume perspective, is the Atlantic Ocean. Business Intelligence on the other hand, is the gallon of milk in my refrigerator. The bell curve image above fairly describes the relationship between how much BI you’ll encounter versus how much truth or even truthiness.
The Cost of Bad Information
The cost of BI is astronomical. The reason that it’s so high is because so many people are so heavily invested in BI. Disseminating BI gives them the edge. From the fake Vuiton handbag salesman in NYC to the large company that doesn’t want you to know that you can buy a very similar but better product across the street. Not knowing how to use/fix/do something costs us time trying to figure it out by; trial-and-error, asking someone, Googling it, or looking for professional user assistance, etc. I’m sure you can think of many examples.
Technical Communicators Constantly Battle BI
Creating Good Information, and battling BI is our work and our passion, or at least it should be. Just as journalists should report the unbiased news, technical communicators should describe what we’re describing based upon the facts. It’s the ethical thing to do. BI is everywhere and we should keep that in mind at all times.