During the Coronavirus pandemic, many people have significantly increased the amount of time that they spend online. And while social media has been a valuable source of connection for many as we are forced to remain physically apart, it has also left users vulnerable to falling down a rabbit hole of deception. From racism and hateful rhetoric to anti-vaccine misinformation, what starts online can often lead to real-world consequences. We have already seen two stark examples this year in the storming of the US Capitol and the rise of conspiracy theories around Coronavirus vaccines.
Whether we like it or not, this problem is only going to intensify in years to come. Technological advances, including the development of deepfake videos (clips where computer generated versions of prominent people are indistinguishable from real ones), blur the lines between reality and ‘fake news’ even further.
In order to tackle disinformation, governments and populations alike must stand up for the truth. Put simply, a society without a shared set of facts is doomed to fail. In a time where our political divisions can often seem insurmountable, establishing a common truth is the first step on the path towards healing and moving forward with common purpose.
Standing against disinformation is also the antidote to the rising tide of authoritarianism. Though Donald Trump, the man who made the phrase ‘fake news’ famous, is no longer the President of the United States, authoritarian strongmen from Vladimir Putin in Russia to Viktor Orban in Hungary see disinformation as a tool that can be manipulated to suit their political agendas.
Perhaps the best reason to tackle disinformation is that by doing so, we allow issues to be debated with the nuance and respect that they deserve, by people operating under a shared reality. This does not mean that we will always agree. It simply means that there is a greater likelihood of developing an effective policy response to emerging threats. And in a world that often feels more divided than ever, tackling disinformation remains the single most important thing that we can do in order to take a step closer to unity.