Globally, we’re living through massive digital change. The spread of false information online is an issue of our times. Plan International spoke to 26,000 girls and young women across 26 countries about their exposure to false information online: Nine in 10 told us it has negatively impacted their lives. Here 20-year-old Aissatou explains the impact that misinformation online has had on her life
“Since its emergence and democratization, the Internet has become an increasingly important part of our lives. It allows people to connect over long distances, stay in touch regardless of circumstances, learn new skills, and access information at any time. It has become the primary source of information for many, and in this respect, the relevance of social media is growing. In other words, it serves a lot of purposes.
Thanks to the internet I receive information in real time. For example, if a bomb explodes in the United States at 12h00mn00s; at 12h00mn01s I receive the information. Social networks are the same; they allow us to be in contact with our family and our relatives who are at the other end.
The Internet is of great importance for everyone, but especially for teachers and learners. As for social networks, they are also of importance – for example with social networks like WhatsApp or messenger, we can create our class groups allowing the learners to make online courses. During the pandemic, the Internet saved many people.
Misinformation has a serious impact on the lives of everyone, especially young people and women. In fact, misinformation can lead to a certain confusion in the young girl or woman, so that verified and verifiable information is lost in a sea of contents that, little by little, affects people’s ability to distinguish true from false, and generates more and more confusion, anxiety and violence.
I remember when I was very young, I was between 14 and 15 years old, and during that period Facebook was the only social network I was using. One day I was on there when I came across a report about the end of the world, citing various evidence that the world would end in 2018. I was scared and upset because it didn’t seem to be fake.
Misinformation is not new, but it is now reaching bigger proportions. Misinformation on the Internet has grown to such an extent in the last few years that it has become a real problem for society.
Fake news or disinformation arouses fears and indignation, to the point that these become real threats for society. The magnitude and impact is greater because sharing is facilitated by mass media and web platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Misinformation is fundamentally a social evil. It is often due to social factors; and regardless of the good or bad will of individuals, bad beliefs are propagated.
Indeed, the misinformation about the global COVID-19 pandemic is reaching alarming levels. It can be difficult to make sense of it all. For example, in Norway, several headlines mentioned without further context that 23 people died after being vaccinated in Norway.
Subsequently, the Norwegian authorities claimed that there is no link between these deaths and the injection. When I heard this information, I was so afraid that I refused to be vaccinated, even though it was a misinformation.
In fact, many things must and can change. Each and every one of us can take steps to protect ourselves and others from misinformation and limit its circulation by adopting good daily habits. Disinformation is taking more and more space in our lives, so the first ones to act should be the journalists themselves, through the verification of facts and also the evaluation of numerical statements (statistics, data, etc.) made by public figures during debates or interviews. Internet users also have to question and doubt content, until verified.
To err is human, and our friends and family may not have noticed that they were passing on incorrect information. If we detect a suspicious element in the information they have shared with us, let’s not hesitate to inform them in order to stop it being shared and make them aware of the problems linked to misinformation.
Sharpening the critical skills and minds of the young remains the best weapon against dogmatism. For this purpose, from the earliest age, teachers should introduce children to written and audio-visual press and teach them how to decipher and verify information.
Teaching digital culture is important because it is key to understanding the social practices that bubble up in social networks and their impact on society as a whole.”