Understanding media is the only way to fight disinformation
We live in a time where truth is hanging on by a thread. Disinformation through social media has led to millions of people embracing lies as reality, alongside a wholesale rejection of facts and science. Be it conspiratorial cults, political lies or the ravings of manipulative politicians, we are living in a time where powerful people can control mobs through a single social media post.
In order for us to combat disinformation and the forces that wield it, we as a society need to educate ourselves on the subjects of media literacy. It is essential for every person to know how to recognize false information and to understand how it spreads.
Media literacy is based on the critical analysis of media, which can be anything from the mainstream news to advertisements, movies, social media posts, video games or books. Simply put, the best way to engage with a piece of media is to ask questions, such as: who made this? Who paid for this to be made? Who might benefit or suffer from the message? Is the message leaving out any information?
A strong understanding of media education encourages people to question and gain an understanding of the messages we come across, which is essential in today’s political landscape.
Perhaps the most dangerous modern example of weaponized disinformation is the QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims that former U.S. president Donald Trump is fighting a hidden war against Satanic, pedophilic cannibals who head the Democratic Party, Hollywood and the mainstream media. While these claims are blatantly ridiculous and devoid of any factual background, the disinformation of QAnon has spread to millions of people across the world. Fifty-six per cent of Republicans in the United States say that QAnon is either mostly or partially true, alongside 35 per cent of Independent voters and nine per cent of Democrats.
To be clear, QAnon isn’t some harmless or ironic internet conspiracy. Real-world acts of violence have been committed by followers of the cult, from alleged kidnappings and murders to acts of terror and threats of political assassination. And then there’s the failed insurrection attempt at the Capitol Hill, where many QAnon believers came out in droves to attack the heart of American democracy. So much damage has been caused as a result of lies.
Even Canadians aren’t safe from the disinformation infection, as the gun-toting person who drove through the gates at Rideau Hall while looking for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted QAnon theories on social media.
With so many people involved in such volatile misinformation, we need to realize that the solution isn’t as simple as showing these misled people the error of their ways. Followers of the conspiracy theory have fallen victim to cult-like behavioural control, which means that their fanatical devotion to the disinformation is unlikely to be broken by the truth.
While it is essential for reasonable people to pick up media literacy skills, the best way to combat disinformation is through educating children. Elementary schools should begin teaching classes in media literacy, especially in the context of social media, as the coming generations will be some of the first to be raised entirely in the social media age. By educating Canada’s youth we will have a future generation that won’t be nearly as susceptible to violent misinformation as we have seen today.