Fact or Fake? – The Digital Information Minefield

By Steve Stokes, Head of Communications and Engagement for the Wales Air Ambulance Charity and Secretary 


If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us as communicators, the challenge of misinformation is very real.
And where does this assault on the truth manifest itself most prominently? Yes, that’s right. Online.

As the pandemic has progressed over an elongated period, some of the population have become desensitised to the severity of the virus and its consequences. This has been further fuelled by the voices of dissent that reverberate around the social media echo chamber. Agenda-driven opinions, misinterpreted or manipulated stats, inaccurate ‘news’ stories, have all muddied the waters. At a psychological level, misinformation feeds on the understandable tiredness and frustrations felt in certain quarters and offers an alternative, if not misleading, reality. A justification to behave in a way that allows people to return to their pre-COVID lives without concern or guilt. For those of us who work in health, we know that this has severe consequences.
The origin of misinformation is often unknown, as is the reason for it. Whether a simple misunderstanding, mischief-making or something much more sinister (also referred to as disinformation), the rationale behind dissenting voices is a long and complex debate – and not one I’m going to discuss here.
The question for us as communicators is, how do we tackle misinformation? We can think long and hard about short-term solutions but that would only be papering over the cracks. The reality is that we need to focus on the long-term.
We also need to focus on those things that are in our control. The ability to regulate is limited to those small number of people who run mass communication outlets, in particular social media companies. What we and the wider public are in control of is our ability to scrutinise. 

Education in the Digital World
Educating our future generations is key to combating the scourge of misinformation. 
Shelley Metcalfe is co-founder and director of The Digital Life Skills Company, a social enterprise that equips children with digital media literacy skills to improve their life chances. They offer training for providers/adults who work with children and young people, and also digital training providers who work with all age groups.
In a recent article, Shelley pointed out that ‘there is a chasm between how we teach school subjects and how young people are learning about the world.’
She added, ‘while children may be seen as digital natives, they are more often digitally naïve about the content they consume via their social media feeds and search results. Google answers 11 million questions from school children every day, yet more than half completely trust or don’t consider the reliability of what they get’.
Shelley’s focus is on curriculum developers, educators and parents. This ensures that the next generation is prepared. However, it is clear to see that this guidance is needed by all age groups. 
As communicators, we should have more than a passing interest in the development of digital media literacy education. We should be actively engaged with it. After all, our profession and its effectiveness depends on its success.
So what can we do to support this?

Make sure we are digital media literate ourselves.

Become advocates for digital media literacy within our organisations and further afield – particularly within education settings.

Over the coming months, the CIPR Not for Profit Group will explore the topic of mis/disinformation and offer support to develop our own digital media literacy, as well as the digital media literacy of others. Watch this space!