Safety in digital skepticism


In the wake of the Paris attacks last week, hacker group Anonymous declared war on the perpetrators – IS, ISIL, ISIS, Daesh, whatever you like to call them. This morning, it was reported that the group have taken down 20,000 Twitter accounts that were spreading propaganda across the ether. The fact that Anonymous have succeeded in taking down that number of accounts should cause alarm to all savvy internet users: if there were 20,000 taken down, how many fake accounts are we dealing with, exactly?

The Brookings Institute published a study earlier this year of Daesh social media activity, identifying at least 46,000 Twitter accounts firing out around 100,000 tweets a day. The main activity on these accounts was to send out bursts of tweets to build trends. How many people, seeing a trending hashtag, are tempted to jump on the bandwagon without first checking the facts? Will you now hesitate before tweeting?

That’s nonsense!

We see the same behaviour on Facebook, almost daily. Rumours and memes circulate the globe, tugging at heartstrings year after year. Most people are wise to the wide range of fabricated Britain First campaigns, but they are still pushing; the empty House of Commons meme pops up most months. Every country is facing the same challenge – French hoax trackers Debunked have identified plenty of fictitious propaganda in the past week, including a tear-jerking image of a young girl apparently killed in the attacks.

On the other hand, there are stories out there which are apparently far-fetched but completely correct. The biker gangs fighting with the Kurds? Absolutely true. Diesel the police dog? RIP brave companion.

Social media gives us an unprecendented opportunity to share stories of bravery and help to right wrongs – but please, check before you press that share button!

Not telling the whole truth?

We all develop a sense of who to trust in our daily dealings online, but we need to exercise caution even with established news providers. News comes in all shades of the political spectrum, and the snippets we read will generally reflect the leanings of the publication or channel involved. Trouble is, the brevity of reporting these days means that the broadsheet approach of delivering both sides of the story with visible bias has disappeared; we only see one viewpoint these days. There is a war currently being fought across traditional and social media between junior doctors and the government. Look carefully at what is being published: it’s very difficult to find the whole story in one place from traditional, trusted sources.

Before you leap to conclusions, check your facts! Let’s all apply a healthy dose of digital skepticism, and make sure that what we share is raising the bar, not lowering standards.