With the 2020 US Presidential election looming, fake news and misinformation, and its spread, particularly via social networks, is again going to be a key element of concern.
But it’s also not one that can be easily addressed. As we reported recently, while fake news has been a key point of focus in many discussions, removing clearly fake reports may not actually have much impact, as a lot of online tribalism and argument is less inspired by obviously fake information, and more amplified by misrepresentation, skewing news reports and their elements in a certain way, in order to drive clicks.
So what can we do? How can we ensure that clearly incorrect information is being pulled up and addressed, ideally before it goes on to be shared and re-distributed through social networks?
One key aspect could be education, and this week, Tumblr has announced a new initiative aimed at teaching its users about suspicious web activity, including elements on misinformation and cyberbullying.
The program – entitled ‘World Wide What’, will consist of a range of educational videos on six key aspects.
As explained by Tumblr:
“We’ve partnered with the UK non-profit, Ditch the Label to help spread some internet safety awareness as well as facilitate some much-needed conversation between yourselves – the community on Tumblr.”
This follows the launch of a similar program by Facebook and Reuters last month, which aims to provide education on how people can spot the use of manipulated media in order to facilitate the spread of misinformation.
Improving digital literacy at scale may be a challenge, but it could also be key to improving our democratic process in the modern, connected landscape.
Indeed, according to a report from CNN, Finland is leading the way in battling the impacts of fake news by implementing a new education curriculum – beginning from elementary school – which focuses on digital misinformation, and encourages critical thinking.
The program has been in place since 2014, and is aimed at teaching Finnish residents, students, journalists and politicians on how to counter false information which is designed to sow division.
And it’s clearly having an impact – in a recent study, Finland ranked first in resilience to digital misinformation and manipulation.
Now, more nations are paying attention to the Finnish approach, which could see the introduction of more courses and initiatives like these which are aimed at ensuring that citizens are equipped to be able to detect and fact-check such claims, which could reduce sharing of such.
And that’s a key problem – with public sharing and amplification now so readily accessible, complex political decisions are often being reduced to simple memes, which fail to encapsulate the nuances of each issue. That then further reinforces division, and as such, people are being entrenched into certain political viewpoints without adequate understanding of the key elements, using cherry-picked data points and quotes to skew opinion.
These are the smaller needles that likely can’t be removed through fact-checks, as they’re not false, as such, but they’re twisted, deliberately misinterpreted perspectives. Teaching people to view such in a more critical way could be key to improving the information flow, and ensuring voters are making decisions based on actual facts and figures.
It’s not a problem that can be solved with one single initiative, but its good to see more platforms looking to get on board with digital literacy initiatives. Now we need out Governments to also implement the same, adding more digital information education into the general curriculum.