Misinformation in the age of internet
I am of the generation before mobile phones, the internet, digitalization and instant news. I belong to the generation of encyclopedias and libraries for studying, of newspapers and TV news for the latest information, of Kodak cameras and photo printing for creating memories and of letter writing to connect with friends.
My generation has seen a mountain of changes and has had to learn at the speed of light new technologies without which social integration would have been problematic. And that’s fine, because our lives have generally been enriched.
My issue lies with misinformation and the credibility of the news we receive. Sitting in front of our TV or mobile screens, we are bombarded with information from different sources and ideologies. It is gratifying that so much is available, supposedly guiding us to better understanding and decision-making, but how can we distinguish between what is correct, misleading or completely fake?
Analysts predict, theorists and academics give their personal opinion and everyone is a judge on Twitter. Social media in particular has become a platform to post statements of all kinds, whether true or false, credible or doubtful. Humans have a tendency to preach and the advent of social media has empowered this trait.
Although users are aware of the falsehoods posted, they still repost them and share inaccurate information.
Many examples are available and sifting through what is right and wrong to find the truth is guaranteed to fail because misinformation is never-ending and time is limitless. By the time a falsehood is corrected, another one appears. This is politically dangerous because if the average person is ignorant regarding foreign policies, countries and cultures, their judgment will be flawed and based on misleading untruths affecting bilateral relations.
Saudi Arabia is an excellent example, and the love/hate relationship the Western world has with the Kingdom is a result of the damage emanating from this kind of information. For years, we have been harassed by questions regarding women, our society, our religion and traditions, our crown prince, our economy and foreign policies. Answers reflecting the reality are rarely propagated because they lack the sensationalist element that wins followers, readers, viewers and “likes.”
Secondhand information is also problematic because specialists from other countries always seem to know more about Saudi Arabia than Saudis themselves!
Social and traditional media feed from each other, providing information to the world with an unseen hand. Nothing is ever black or white but what is clear is that there is an absence of ethics and a lack of responsibility towards circulating credibility and searching for the truth. I don’t know what the solution is or if there is one. It definitely isn’t a return to the past — that would be impossible and also unwelcome — but more to do with honesty and integrity.
Hoda Al-Helaissi has been a member of the Shoura Council since 2013. She is also a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee within the Shoura.