Age of Disinformation: Schools must arm children against the dangers posed by immoral influencers, dictators' propaganda and fake news – Scotsman comment

Information revolutions have caused turmoil in the past so we should have been expecting problems with the internet

Not long after the birth of the internet, a new ‘Information Age' was declared. Suddenly, we had access to a vast array of facts – virtually the sum of all human knowledge – at the touch of a button. Predictably, it was quickly followed by another proclamation: the twin Ages of Misinformation and Disinformation were upon us.

The years since have seen a rise in online fraud, attempts at election interference and the spread of propaganda by hostile states like Russia, and the exploitation of social media by populists, far-right groups and charlatans like Donald Trump. Now doctors are warning that the record-high number of abortions in Scotland last year – 16,584 – could have been fueled by online misinformation, after a survey found many Scots were getting health advice from TikTok.

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Some 43 per cent of respondents said they had learned more about sexual health from the social media platform than they had done at school, even though much of the information was either untrue or misleading. Dr Babak Ashrafi, a GP specialising in sexual health, said this demonstrated why age-appropriate sexual education based on “scientifically and medically accurate information” was important.

He is right, but the education system also needs to give children the tools to deal with the full array of misinformation. At the heart of this lies teaching children how to think critically, logically and morally – basically, philosophy. The consequences to society of a failure to do so will be profound, as shown by the rise of such odious ‘influencers’ like the misogynist Andrew Tate, who is currently awaiting trial in Romania on charges of human trafficking, rape and forming an organised crime group.

The Information Age caused by the printing press helped enable the Reformation and it was soon followed by Europe’s wars of religion. So we perhaps should have expected considerable turmoil during what is a fascinating period of human history that will be much studied in years to come. Society will eventually learn how to deal with the current deluge of real and fake information. But it should be obvious that we must do so as quickly as possible.



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