Fake news and misinformation are all around us, but we’ve stopped noticing.
The world and the people in it have changed an astronomical amount over the last decade. Although it may not seem like it, ten years has brought a stronger desire for a plant-based diet, more awareness of global warming, developments on topics such as gender, sexuality and mental health, more involvement from women and young people in politics, and major advances in technology and science.
Ten years ago, the plant-based diet was met with ‘but what will you eat?’ Global warming was a mere speculation. Politics was still a predominantly male and middle-aged interest. Phones were bigger and slower. Open discussions on gender, sexuality and mental health, barely happened and if they did, they were met with confusion and fear of the unknown.
Fast-forward to 2016 when a poll found that Britain’s vegan population had increased from 150,000 to 542,000 in 10 years. Global warming is not just a speculation anymore, with laws put in place in many countries to tackle it. Politics is on a par with social media and more young people in the UK have registered to vote than ever before. Communities of people are coming together from all over the world to break societies’ gender ‘norms’ and to support LGBTQ+ and varying types of mental health issues.
The biggest milestone will be 2020 when ‘new regulations for teaching and sex education in English schools come into force’, with children of primary school age being taught about the different types of families, including same-sex and same-love relationships. The heteronormative stance within the education system will gradually become a thing of the past, and the next generation of children will be learning that love comes in all shapes and sizes — an empowering step in the right direction that reflects reality.
It is clear that we have made advancements and that people are becoming more accepting of the diverse world we live in. Social media and the internet have certainly been one of the positive forces driving this new growth and understanding, by opening doors to the world of unlimited, instant-access information. These two forces have awakened us to the presence of diversity. Being impressionable people, once we have seen these different ways of life, I believe, it makes us more accepting of differences and less fearful of change.
Of course, it would be naive to say that social media and the internet haven’t also played a negative part. As awareness grows, so does our desire to share our opinions through the old and new avenues available. Naturally, we discover that people’s opinions differ, and depend largely on their individual life experiences. In a perfect world, this awareness of the differences should lead to greater understanding and the ability to form a well-rounded view on a topic. But the world is not perfect. Certain people, known as trolls and cyberbullies, tend to be quick and enjoy getting personal when disagreeing with someone else’s view point or way of life.
There have been numerous incidents of cyberbullying and trolling which have negatively impacted the lives of young people, public figures and celebrities — the most recent case being that of Caroline Flack, who took her own life after mounting social pressure. A survey found that ‘24% of 13-18-year-olds had been targeted by cyberbullying due to gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or transgender identity’. Celebrities face similar traumas with trolls who target them for their appearance and spread lies about their lives.
The question is, how are people getting away with it so easily?
There are two reasons. Anonymity: trolls take advantage of it. And, Freedom from repercussions: they can say what they want consequence-free.
For the most part, people are just trying to live their lives and trolls on social media have made it much more complicated to do so peacefully.
Trolls and cyberbullies are not the only evils
The internet and social media have fostered another evil: misinformation. Fake news and irresponsible advertising need to start taking some responsibility for society’s lack of tolerance on certain issues and concerning certain groups of people.
We are in a decade where information is effortlessly available. Instinctively, we want to know more, but it’s becoming harder to know what or whom to believe when we’re overwhelmed with so much information. For many of us, sharing misinformed opinions is an unintentional consequence of visiting the cyber world. It’s hard to get all the facts straight when we’re getting them from people who themselves may not know all the facts either. And this has created an increasingly damaging environment online.
The worst part is that people who have a voice and can use it for good, often don’t. Think celebrities, politicians and social media influencers. In the last election campaign, the Conservatives put out a fake labour manifesto to mislead people and sway them from voting for the Labour party. Likewise, Certain celebrities and social media influencers are using their platform irresponsibly by providing people with misguided information on issues of health and diet. ‘Why?’ You ask. Money. Or specifically, for the purpose of advertising damaging products, including diet teas, appetite suppressant lollipops and extreme diet plans, to fans who are potentially vulnerable users of social media. Similarly, the climate change emergency is being completely ignored by certain world leaders despite the warning signs, facts, and statistics.
We are being fed a whole host of misinformation by those we (often mistakenly) deem to be trustworthy, and whom we consider to be our role models. Our fandom and support for these people overshadows the topic at hand. Instead of a debate on global warming or some other pressing issue, we get school-yard-type quarrels that become personal and vicious. We turn on each other, usually touching on race, sexuality, and appearances. The topic is lost, and all because we focused on and ‘trusted’ the source of our information, instead of inquiring about the information itself.
This blind trust and idealisation of certain politicians, celebrities and influencers is causing cracks in our nation, our world, and making us forget what is actually important.
Language has a role to play in this too. The way our ‘idols’ communicate with each other filters downwards. During the last election, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were like two school boys taking opportunities to embarrass each other. This is what impressionable young people and adults saw from two supposed leaders, and it’s no surprise if we absorb this behaviour into our own day-to-day communication with each other. Add to this the physical safety net of communicating online, and we theoretically have the perfect excuse and environment for saying whatever we want.
Words frequently get lost in translation when we’re behind a computer or phone screen. We forget that the person we are arguing with, is also real, with sensitive and valid feelings. Just because we are in disagreement with them, it doesn’t give us the right to be vindictive. We must learn to be more compassionate when we speak, and more thoughtful.
The world is complicated enough. Let’s make the effort to be a little kinder to one another and help each another to understand, listen and learn.
We are never going to agree with everyone and opinions will inevitably differ. But that’s what makes us so wonderful. If we think about all the remarkable things we have achieved over the last decade, what is stopping us from continuing to achieve more? If we can learn to be more open towards really listening and learning from each other. If we can stop spreading fake news, misinformation, and irresponsibly advertising. If we can be aware of a better way of communicating with each other, based on compassion and respect — then our world will be a more tolerant and less ignorant place to live in.
In a world brimming with cultures and infused with different faiths, characterised by various likes and dislikes, beliefs, opinions, complications and hardships; kindness and understanding will go a long way.