There has been an awful lot of misinformation and fake news around recently, often accompanied by scams. We held a DigiShift webinar with three industry thought leaders, who each explored a key question around managing risk and the impact of misinformation in the current crisis.

Jess McBeath -‘Why is misinformation such a big problem, and what can we do about it?’

Jess of Jess Digital is an online safety and digital citizenship expert.

Jess begins by highlighting that in the past it was much easier to evaluate facts as they tended to be binary, either true or false. Misinformation is mostly new and much more complex, as it influences your perspective of the world.

Misinformation includes elements we would have called propaganda in the past but also now includes mistakes and outright lies. Misinformation, amplified by technology, is shared around the world with amazing viral speed. Shocking clickbait headlines are designed to be shareable.

Algorithms see what we have shared and show us similar content. We are unwittingly and gradually groomed towards more extreme perspectives. We are forced into tribes which distort our view of reality, whilst thinking they are universal beliefs.

Jess’s top tips are to evaluate everything you hear and read, to apply some critical thinking. You should consider who created the content. Are they themselves reliable or biased? Is what they say likely, or too good, to be true?

Jess recommends you regularly use Full Fact, the UK’s independent fact checking organisation to evaluate information.

Irene Warner-Mackintosh – ‘If the internet is such a scary place, should we really be supporting people online?’

Irene Warner-Mackintosh is co-founder of Mhor Collective. Irene specialises in the development, delivery and management of sustainable digital participation programmes and digital skills training. Irene is also a PhD student with the University of the West of Scotland.

Irene works with people experiencing digital inequality and she is passionate about access for all to devices, connectivity and ‘skills’. Irene begins by citing a recent Ofcom report. This has shown that people suffering digital inequality are more likely to be affected by misinformation. For example, there was lots of misinformation at the start of corona but by now most of us have filtered this out and identified the facts.

People without access to factual information, or the ability to critically evaluate, will turn to their trusted people for advice. You can help them by identifying who these trusted people are and ensuring they have the facts. For example for children, their trusted source will be their parents, who may need help to build their critical thinking; for people experiencing homelessness, it is likely to be support staff with the Simon community.

Service providers are community influencers and need to support people to use the internet. So you must develop your own knowledge and understanding. Irene recommends some training to get you up-to-speed, including these three free courses:

Irene reminds us all – You are now the trusted people. You must be confident messengers and the trusted source.

Alison Stone – ‘What can you do to ensure you stay safe online? It’s less technical than you think…’

Alison Stone is the Cyber resilience coordinator for SCVO, working closely with Scottish Government.

Alison begins by reminding us that scammers are intelligent, clever and good at what they do. No one should ever feel embarrassed, stupid or guilty for falling for their increasingly sophisticated attacks.

There has not been an increase in scams recently but scammers have jumped on everyone’s focus on corona. Scammers use misinformation and set up fake websites to sell fake products. These are really sophisticated and look like real selling websites. In reality they are a front to harvest your details – either your financial details, or your passwords which you may be using across multiple sites.

Alison’s advice is to sense check everything, especially emails. You should educate yourself on phishing and report any phishing emails to the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre).

She asks you to “think carefully about anything that feels out of the ordinary and question if it is likely”.

Alison recommends some trusted sources:

You should also read her excellent blog for more help on how to stay one step ahead of the cyber scammers.

Alison finishes by encouraging you to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best”. Wise words!

If you missed this DigiShift, you can watch the recording, or you can catch up via our DigiListen podcast.