Digital citizenship is the idea that you are both entitled to rights that relate to a safe, fully accessible digital experience when engaging with the internet and digital technologies, and that in engaging with these you recognise that you undertake a set of responsibilities to ensure your activities are not encroaching on the rights and access of others to those same digital spaces and tools.
Disinformation is not a new problem – propaganda, lies and distorted truths are ingrained in societies across the world. The advent of the internet, however, makes it harder at times to separate fact from fiction, and often makes dissemination much easier to a larger potential audience. Luckily, you already have a number of the skills required to identify disinformation and tackle it- you learned them at school.
Close reading, or analysing texts for similes, metaphors, hyperbole set you up with the questions for probing questions. Why did the author choose this word? What connotations does this word have? What is the author implying here? When I fill in the gaps, what does this character really mean? Considering the wider context of the piece – when it was written, who by, what is happening in the world around the author, how it’s received, the themes it focuses on – all helps to understand the author’s motivations and underlying ideology. From here, you can make an informed decision as to whether you agree with or believe the content you’re dealing with.
If I never hear ‘Show your working’ one more time, it’ll be too soon. However, it’s a life lesson that many forget – jumping from Point A to Point Q without explicitly showing the in-between steps that helped you get there. Figuring out the paths people take from a piece of evidence to the supposed implications or a claim their making helps to uncover the hidden ideologies, biases or twisting of facts. So, next time someone suggests something scary or shocking, stop and think about the iterative steps they took to get from Evidence to Claim.
The validity of sources is something we cannot underestimate. History teachers impress upon high schoolers how Wikipedia alone cannot help you write your essays – you need to go to the experts and read the well-researched history books to get a fuller picture. Wikipedia is crowdsourced and not necessarily fact-checked (although I actually love Wikipedia). It’s a fine first step, but even Wikipedia backs up its claims with a references list. Think about primary and secondary sources as well: diary entries and video clips of speeches are much more reliable (at times) to understand what someone thought of a particular topic than (mis)quotes in a newspaper or a Facebook post. History also serves as a reminder that much of what is happening now has happened before – look to the past to learn for the future.
There are many different ways to see the world. You might not remember exactly what ontology and epistemology are, but you may remember the Brain in a Jar discussion. What we know and how we know it is entirely dependent on the beliefs we have about what truth is, and how it can be proven.
Cultural differences offer a variety of lenses with which to understand a gesture or piece of evidence. Taking the time to understand the motivations, ideology and cultural implications of a claim for one person or community can help to unravel tensions and debunk fearmongering.
Forcing potato cells to burst through a microscope might not seem like it’s useful for disinformation, but experiments and questions lead to answers (and more questions). The complexity of a potato’s cell walls is immense, so how could we expect any aspect of human interaction to be any less so? Nothing is ever as simple as Just Because. Physics can explain gravity and Chemistry has a table of elements to explain the makeup of the world. These are not simple concepts. They take time to understand, to make sense, and even after studying them you can get lost sometimes. There is so much we don’t know yet about the natural world. People study their whole lives and never resolve the questions.
Improvement takes practice. Ensuring your digital health requires checkups sometimes, and even in individual sports you need a team of other people around you – coaches and physical therapists – to ensure you’re in the best shape you can be and don’t hurt yourself. Tackling disinformation is similar: you’re not alone in trying to figure out whether the latest claim is legit or an angle to sow seeds of doubt and disruption. Your family, friends and communities can help you from falling foul of disinformation. And supporting others through unravelling disinformation (while not always easy or welcomed) takes stamina, so you need to look after yourself during the process.
You already have the skills necessary to engage critically with news articles, government speeches, viral tweets or memes forwarded to you on WhatsApp. Recognise the patterns, evaluate the sources, come to your own conclusions. Don’t rely on others to do the work for you. Share your working and remember that there are others who are doing the same, you’re far from alone here.