Lies, Damned Lies and the Internet

Melanie Eldredge, of Salt Lake City, asks:

Donald Trump recently claimed that noise from wind turbines causes cancer. In this era of fake news and misinformation about climate change, what can EDF members do to ensure the truth prevails?

Eric Pooley, EDF senior VP for strategy and communication responds:

Thanks for asking; this is just so important – and everyone really can play a role.

The first thing we can all do is make sure we’re not contributing to the problem. I think most of us have probably shared something on social media that turned out to be false. The key is to verify before you share. If it’s a news item consider the source – if it didn’t come from a place you know and trust, do a quick Google search. If it’s a video, be extra careful, because it could be edited or digitally manipulated to “show” something that simply didn’t happen. These days, we literally cannot believe our eyes.

Next, learn the difference between misinformation, disinformation and malinformation. Misinformation is simply false, sometimes by mistake. Disinformation is false on purpose – intended to deceive and do harm. And malinformation includes materials that may be partially true (leaked emails, for example) but are spread to damage reputations and sway public opinion.

According to the watchdog organization First Draft News, all three categories are deployed by bad actors who use social media and other digital channels to spread lies, doubt and confusion on environmental and other issues. At first, it may be hard to tell which category any given piece of fake news falls into. But the key to digital literacy is understanding that the wild, outrageous, super-sharable story that just popped up in your feed likely didn’t get there by accident. Someone with any ugly agenda … put it there.

As digital strategist Melissa Ryan has written, “Trolls look to sow division. They win by dividing us against one another.” Presenting a united front by Refusing to spread fake news is our best defense.

“Solidarity with one another,” says Ryan, “makes it more difficult for the attacks to succeed.”

Copyright © 2019 Environmental Defense Fund. Used by permission. The original material is available at https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/documents/SOL_Summer_2019.pdf on page 19.

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