How Can We Minimise The Threat Of Misinformation

I was thrilled earlier in the week to have attended virtually the Tortoise G7bn Summit, which examined what people of the world need from their leaders in this current crisis. World leaders and influential academics were present and shared their insightful, well-informed views on an array of topics. Themes included how the vaccine distribution will occur, the price of global debt, methods to hold misinformation to account, the role of global organisations, food insecurity and the expected world order post-Covid.

I was intrigued by the session on how we are to hold misinformation to account. The rise of ‘fake news’ as a concept and reality has skyrocketed. We are nowadays taught to question every piece of information in sight, and determine if it is a truth we wish to validate. False reports about the coronavirus, elections, current affairs, breaking news, personal business, the economy, trade and more have accelerated. The awareness and vigilance of fake news was reflected in the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer. 57% of people believe that the media they use is contaminated with untrustworthy information, and 76% now worry about the possibility of this false information being used as a weapon.

The means in which citizens of society are able to gain knowledge and information is today incredibly extensive. People no longer have to wait for the news to broadcast on television every morning or night for the events of the day to be learned. At any moment, citizens are able to go onto their social media accounts, scroll through the writings of freelance bloggers or become enthralled with niche segments of the journalism world, which may not have any reliability about them. Twitter for instance, is an essential platform for journalists. Would journalists of today ever conduct their business without the use of twitter? Likely not, and the world of Twitter is a world for everyone.

Now would be a better time than any for governance and control over the social media world to reduce the spread of misinformation. The concept of citizenship in the digital space would involve a commitment to behaviour online that occurs with respect, awareness, knowledge, honesty and care. Bullying and the spread of fake news for instance, would not be permitted. In all societies and countries, there exist values, norms and legal obligations that citizens are expected to submit to. This creates a minimum standard and a means for individual accountability. However, with this framework being absent in the digital space, it is difficult to expect high standards of behaviour and individual accountability. Furthermore, complexities would arise in tailoring the specifics and intricacies to suit all sovereign nations, as the digital space has no boundaries. It is global.

I do like the concept of citizenship in the digital space, and believe that we must adhere to the values that would be expected, even without a contract. The values are largely universal and common amongst human nature. A portion of the governance must also lie with the creators and owners of platforms themselves. The importance of transparency, fact checking and algorithm scrutiny are integral to minimising the spread of misinformation. With all said and done, the depth of this challenge must not be underestimated. Even if all seeds are sewn, we cannot presume that an ideal outcome will eventuate.

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