Authenticating Information - Introduction

When satirical late-night host Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” in 2005 – to describe how emotions can sometimes outweigh facts in what we want to believe – little did he know that this would be the harbinger of one of the biggest challenges of the digital age: knowing how to separate truth from fiction in the information we encounter online.

truthiness definition

“Truthiness” went on to become a “Word of the Year” in 2006, but it was the polarizing impact of misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election that has brought concerns over “fake news” and misinformation to the forefront in countries around the world.

The use of propaganda and misinformation to influence people’s beliefs and behaviours has been around for centuries; however, the digital age has opened the floodgates to unprecedented opportunities for manipulating the thoughts and actions of both individuals and societies.

Online information can be biased, partisan or totally false. The motivations behind misinformation can be satirical, manipulative, malicious or well intentioned. Its source can be a corporation, government, news organization or a friend. These factors, along with the ease with which we can share information online, illustrate the need for new and more sophisticated forms of authentication.

There is no doubt that the Internet, social media and mobile apps are important news sources for Canadians: according to the 2016 Digital News Report, 62 percent of respondents under the age of 35 and 28 percent of respondents over 35 reported using websites, social media and mobile apps as a main source for news.[1] Overall, 48 percent of Canadians get their news from social media.[2]

While the good news is that most Canadians rely on websites from reputable sources for news stories, there is still considerable information that is searched for or randomly encountered on a daily basis that needs to be authenticated for accuracy.

In this section we will:

  • Explore the ways in which misinformation impacts our understanding of current events and news, politics and the democratic process, and health and science issues
  • Examine the role of individuals as “broadcasters” when sharing news and information through social media and other platforms
  • Offer strategies and tools that can be used by Canadians of all ages to confirm the veracity of online information, while addressing special issues relating to children and teens