Curing the disease of disinformation

In an article last week in the Globe and Mail (“Opinion: Our shared reality – and the knowledge that undergirds it – is being assaulted”), Andrew Coyne writes about the disease of disinformation, “a class war of a particular kind, in which the dividing line is not money or birth but knowledge.”

In recent weeks, I have again raised a topic that has been a recurring theme on this blog, the need for increased investment in digital literacy. In “Testing democratic freedoms”, I asked:

Shouldn’t more effort be focused on teaching critical thinking, teaching school kids how to process information online, including checking and verifying “news” and “facts” being shared on social media? That has been the approach in Finland, as described in articles over the past year or so in The Telegraph and The Guardian. “With democracies around the world threatened by the seemingly unstoppable onslaught of false information, Finland – recently rated Europe’s most resistant nation to fake news – takes the fight seriously enough to teach it in primary school.”

Governments at all levels have been quick to allocate funds to invest in building broadband networks, but not investing sufficiently in skills development for people who have never before been online.

As I described last week in “ConnectTO’s failed sense of urgency”, even when there are already existing broadband networks, some municipal governments are throwing more money at building community-owned networks, rather than understanding the issues that are inhibiting take-up of existing services. I understand the political appeal of constructing new fibre networks. At the end of the day, constructing urban broadband facilities these days is a pretty easy political win. Spend money and you can show how many households have access to your newly constructed network. There are photo ops at the announcement for the project. Another media event when construction starts. Banners on construction trucks let people know their tax dollars are being spent on the digital economy. And then a final ceremonial ribbon cutting caps the project upon completion. All told, throwing money at building broadband has a demonstrably strong political return on investment.

Unfortunately, not enough is done to measure the effectiveness at achieving the goal – which should look at timeliness and cost efficiencies in addition to incremental connections.

In reality, there are already very low priced options for broadband services available to all residents of Toronto Community Housing, but not every resident has taken up the offer. Some residents report that there is no need for the internet. Some express a distrust of government. I understand that similar issues are coming up across the country with respect to the take-up of special broadband programs for low income and other targeted households.

There are a number of factors that inhibit urban broadband adoption, but it is rarely a case that local governments need to invest in building facilities. Addressing digital literacy is a much tougher problem to deal with, and effectively tackling the disease of disinformation has a much more challenging political return on investment.

Investing in digital literacy, and teaching critical thinking skills, are the key actions required to address the knowledge-based disease of disinformation.

Which level of government, and which political party will show the leadership to invest in the long game?

1 thought on “Curing the disease of disinformation”

  1. Harshad Pancholi

    Mark, You make a profound point on digital literacy. It should be an instinctive behavior to reject fake news. This will be the next evolution in human learned behavior. It needs to be consciously cultivated. Great article

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