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We’re living in a post-truth world. How can we tell fact from fiction online?

As social media platforms have blossomed, it has never been so easy to communicate with others. However, along there has been an increase in deceptive, misleading, and false information designed to spread quickly. These have taken the form of conspiracy theories, out-right false claims, and empty rhetoric, which have heightened especially this year due to the global outbreak of Covid-19, the construction of 5G tower masts, and more recently, the results of the 2020 US Presidential election.

It is hard not to read and consume the news and social media without stumbling on the latest outlandish claim that "the deep state is behind all evil and original sin we collectively face today", "Founder of Microsoft Bill Gates is behind the Covid-19 outbreak, due to scraps of 'evidence' of him discussing virology and epidemiology in the past" and the claims from President Trump that the Presidential election was "manipulated against him to oust him from office as a result of mass voter fraud".

What these claims have in eye-catching double-takes, fundamentally lack in logic and validity. It may be easy to blame a faceless organisation of elites for every problem we face, but these "facts" are not true. Neither are the claims that Gates is behind Covid-19, and Trump was duped out of office. Yes, Bill Gates has shown interest in diseases before, but this was in a humanitarian form - he only wanted to stop the spread of malaria! Why should we believe Trump when several independent state and federal organisations have stated that not only did minuscule voter fraud occur, but 2020 was the safest and most secure election on record?

Thus far, social media platforms have begun to institute software and procedures to fact check claims. This is, however, still in its infancy. Companies such as Twitter and Instagram have started to implement them, but due to the large, multi-national scale of these Silicon Valley giants, ensuring that all act within a uniform and fair fact-checking procedure overseen by accountable figures has been a Herculean task.

Mark Zuckerberg’s defence of Facebook’s reluctance to clamp down on the spread of false information has proved controversial. This thinly veiled defence of “free speech” combined with the times we live in, and Facebook’s 2 Billion plus users has created a dangerous cocktail - not only for our health during the response to Coronavirus, but to the health of our liberal democracies through the undermining of conventions essential to our civil freedoms. Social media and its usages are not inherently evil or immoral, but like with any other tool, it can be used incorrectly and cause harm.         

How can we combat the rise of a post-truth world? Become active consumers of the information we receive. How do we achieve this? By following the steps below, although not exhaustive, it will highlight how we can take steps to become active consumers of the world around us.

Firstly, and most importantly, remember that Google and other search engines are your friends. We are like no other generation; we have access to the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips. For every question or query, there is an answer or a discussion of it online. This is an enormous and wildly accessible tool that provides the backbone of our digital existence. It would be foolish not to utilise this to arrive at the information and result we desire. Through this, we can find useful web pages, which leads me on to my next point…

Only use trusted and reliable sources. What may appear to be obvious at first glance, grows increasingly important after the rise of deep fake videos and more convincing lies. Remember what we have been told and at the risk of sounding like a mantra, we have all heard from our tutors’ constant advice, use peer-reviewed sources. Why are we told this? Because they have been subjected to scrutiny. This is an academic skill that we have all been educated to use that is useful in the real world. All good newspapers in the UK, including here at The Glasgow Guardian, comply with the Independent Press Standard Organisation, which ensures standards and truth is upheld.

When reading reliable sources, be aware of the author’s intention. What are they trying to convince you of? Be mindful of bias, as this will affect how an issue is portrayed. The Guardian and the Sunday Times will have differing views on the same subject, this is completely natural, but is something that must be taken into consideration. Also ask, is this satire, a joke, or a prank? These sources deliberately overemphasise and blow aspects out of proportion in the pursuit of laughs. These are touches of humour and often can be easily spotted but the word should not be taken as gospel.

My final parting advice is to use your reason and logically assess what is in front of you. Although not infallible, everyone reading this can consider what is before them. By this point, you will have already begun to make a judgement on this article. For some, this may be the most difficult piece of advice to implement online. This is purely a question of self-confidence on analysing what we consume. Regardless of self-confidence, we mustn't be afraid to question, discuss and debate what we as social media consumers interact with. 


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