A reminder that “fake news” is an information literacy problem

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Under the spread of all the “fake news”, disinformation, disinformation, digital lies and foreign influence lies the failure of society to teach its citizens information literacy: how to think critically at the deluge of information they face in our modern digital age. Instead, the company has prioritized speed over accuracy, sharing over reading, comments over understanding. Children learn to regurgitate what others tell them and rely on digital assistants to organize the world rather than learning to navigate the information landscape on their own. Schools no longer teach triangulation of sources, arbitration of conflicts, separation of fact from opinion, chain of citations, conducting research, or even the basic concept of verification and validation. In short, we have stopped teaching society how to think about information, leaving our citizens adrift in the digital wilderness increasingly saturated with lies without even a compass or map to help them find their way to. Security. The solution is to teach the citizens of the world the basics of information literacy.

It is the accepted truth of Silicon Valley that every problem has a technological solution.

More importantly, in the eyes of the Valley, every problem can be solved exclusively through technology without requiring the company to do anything on its own. A few algorithmic tweaks, a few more lines of code, and all the problems in the world can just be coded out of existence.

Unfortunately for the technological determinists of the Valley, this is far from the truth.

Sadly, this mindset has survived to drive today’s “fake news” efforts.

Rather than investing in information literacy, the Valley has doubled down on technological solutions to combat digital lies, focusing on exploiting legions of “fact checkers” and turning to blacklists. of websites and content, algorithmic tweaks and other quick fixes that haven’t done much to tide.

The problem is, technology can only alleviate the symptoms, it can’t address the underlying cause of digital lies: our susceptibility to blindly believing what we read on the web and our inability to verify and validate. information before sharing or acting on it.

Why can a teenager in his parents’ basement halfway around the world anonymously post a social media statement falsely attributed to a head of state and cause that comment to go viral, spread throughout the mainstream press and even influence the international political debate without anyone stopping to ask if there is an ounce of truth in what they read?

How is it possible that the country’s most prestigious scholars and scientists at preeminent research institutions and universities could all suspend their disbelief and blindly believe that an anonymous Twitter account claiming to be a secret society “resisting” their government was everything it claimed to be without any verification? For all of our societal laughs about those falling for the ‘Nigerian Prince’ email scams, all it took was a few anonymous Twitter accounts claiming to be fellow researchers to begin freely fundraising from local researchers. most respected in the country who never stopped asking if any of this seemed in the least suspicious.

In the early days of the web, corporations taught their citizens not to believe everything they read online, to treat every statement as suspicious, and not to act or share information without verifying it. Today, these same corporations are putting enormous pressure on their citizens to believe everything they see on the web for real and share it as widely as they can as quickly as they can, dismissing any conflicting information they might come across in the process.

The old adage “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet” has become “Believe everything on the Web and share it widely”.

Even digital natives who grew up in an information-saturated online world are no better at discerning the credibility of information or even understanding the most basic concepts for separating paid advertising from objective journalistic reporting.

Suggestions like requiring programming and data science classes in school would certainly create more technically literate citizens, but that’s not the same as data literacy and the kind of critical thinking that we do. it requires. The ability to write computer code doesn’t magically make someone more resistant to digital lies, just like learning a new human language doesn’t teach someone how to do digital triangulation.

Tech culture is a powerful and important skill in our increasingly tech-driven society, but it is not the same as information literacy and will not help in the war against “fake news.” “.

Algorithms can help citizens sort through the deluge of information around them, identifying contested narratives and contested facts, but technology alone is not a panacea. There is no magic algorithm that can eliminate all false and misleading information online.

To truly solve the “fake news” problem, we need to combine technological assistance with teaching our citizens to be literate consumers of the world around them.

Companies need to teach their children from an early age how to research, understand sourcing, triangulate information, sort through contested narratives, and recognize the importance of where information comes from, not just where it comes from. said.

In short, we must teach all of our fellow citizens to be researchers and scientists when it comes to consuming information.

Most importantly, we need to focus on verification and validation rather than virality and velocity.

Unfortunately, all of these concepts are directly antithetical to our modern world of social media in which speed and virality bestows fame and fortune, while due diligence and verification results in either silence or a deluge of hate speech from those to whom false accounts are countered.

Putting it all together, solving the epidemic of digital lies cannot be done through technology alone. No magic algorithm will rid the Web of its false and misleading narratives, and teaching the public to program will have no impact on their ability to discern truth from fiction.

Instead, today’s grand challenge of tackling “fake news”, disinformation, disinformation, digital lies, and foreign influence requires a very human solution. This requires teaching the citizens of society the basics of information literacy and thinking about the information they consume.

More importantly, it will require navigating the existential contradictions of today’s social media platforms obsessed with velocity and virality against the verification and validation that forms the basis of Information Literacy.

A more literate society would likely cause considerable economic harm to today’s virus-obsessed social platforms that thrive on digital lies, meaning there will be considerable resistance from Silicon Valley to a more literate society. .

In the end, the only way to really start tackling the spread of digital lies is to understand that they are a societal issue rather than a technological one, and to go back to the early days of the Web when we were teaching society to question what it is. they were reading online. .

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