Summary of Vuelio’s webinar ‘Why we need to take online misinformation and disinformation seriously’ with our Founder and CEO, Thomas Barton
16 May 2023
“The threat is real”
“It is deeply concerning that, longer term, misinformation and disinformation are essentially going to break down trust, and divide and polarise society further. People will be in echo chambers where they only receive information that reinforces them and their own existing bias. On a 15-20 year horizon, the rise of disinformation is seen as key threats that can undermine democracy. And it also posed a threat to public health” - Thomas Barton
Polis Analysis has been evaluating many different studies and reports. One of them concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports found that 14% of all people under the age of 30 were hesitant to get the vaccine. This was caused because at the very beginning of the pandemic, 58% of 18-24 year olds in the UK had come across misinformation online about vaccines. Misinformation poses a threat to democracy in the big political picture, but it also is a real threat to public health in the UK.
This mistrust of the COVID-19 vaccine can be linked back to the very starting point of society, in school children. Studies have found that only 2% of school children have the skill set to distinguish real and false info online. And in addition to this, 50% of teachers think the current education system is not fit for purpose when it comes to preparing school children with skills such as critical thinking, they need to identify false information. Overall, only ⅕ of people that come across misinformation online report it or do something about it.
This highlights the risk of misinformation and raising children without any awareness around the topic.
So what can you do?
In the workshop Thomas Barton identified a few ways that you can help taking action against false information.
The most obvious but simultaneously most pressing one is reporting misinformation. By no means should this be a way of inhibiting free speech, however speaking up and clearing up false information once you come across it online helps thousands of people. Pointing it out does not necessarily mean that you need to scan the internet and have a surveillance mindset, however coming across obvious false information should lead to the automated conclusion to take action.
As a PR, working together with clients can be challenging, however making use of your critical thinking skills to challenge trusted institutions and authorities may help as well. When you come across a situation like this, flag that false information, take it down and go into a conversation with your client. Misinformation spreads fast.
What have we done?
Polis analysis is on a constant mission to battle fake news and online misinformation. Specifically, we have been in touch with members of the House of lords and members of Parliament in order to amend the existing online safety bill. We need change in order to see change. Therefore, we have been pushing for two amendments.
The one amendment should be the duty of balance. This means that social media giants like Facebook, Twitter etc., should be forced to take responsibility for publishing false information. There already has been a shift, but that is only because before there was little to no action against false information. Social media giants should be implementing more content moderators that scan the internet for false information. Additionally, flagging accounts that have a track record of providing false information may be beneficial so that we do not have to flag singular posts.
The other amendment is the implementation of greater transparency. Social media accounts that spread information need to explain where they are taking their information from, outing sources and back checking.
We will continue to campaign against false information, but we need both a top-down (legislative) and a bottom-up (teaching hard skills & taking action) approach. Holistic is the way we can make sure facts prevail online, and the fight is not lost.
We are not in a post-truth world yet, but we have to act fast.