The value that I originally aimed to address was the fair use of information. As I began examining that value, I raised the question – how do we discern and discover what is true, especially within digital media? Truth is such a complex idea with a variety of layers. Terms such as “data”, “information”, “knowledge”, and “wisdom” vary in definition and use – and are often times used in overlapping ways. As a result, my question has evolved to include a larger idea – how do we discern and discover what is true within a digital age, and how do we justify such truth?
In today’s digital age, people look more and more to online resources to source information and form their beliefs. Search engines, such as Google, and online social media platforms, such as Twitter, are the foundational tools they rely on to research information and source data on topics of interest. Based on their findings through these online mediums, people form their beliefs and understanding around what is “true”, however, the sources and identification of whether the information they are receiving is complete or biased is often times undisclosed or unclear. The fact that people rely on digital mediums so extensively to form their beliefs and ideas of truth – without understanding the development and organization of the information received, is truly concerning. In essence, lacking a full account of where information and data is generated from, creates a serious cause of concern around how people truly develop and justify their beliefs in a digital age.
What I have come to learn and discover to this point is that an individual’s justified beliefs are directly correlated to the depths they take with certain epistemic responsibilities, and in turn, directly correlate with the decisions they make around those beliefs. What I am discovering is that we presume too much from what is discoverable online. With our digital advancements in information sharing moving significantly faster than our rate of understanding how inquiry-enabling technology, such as search engine optimization, works – people are forming more and more beliefs without a true understanding of the fullness or bias of the information they are examining.
Jason Thacker stated in his 2022 article, Discerning What’s True in a Digital Age, “While the problems we face today in our post-truth society are exacerbated by technologies like the internet, social media, and even the rise of deepfakes—altered videos through artificial intelligence—the root of the problem is not the technology itself. Many of these pressing issues find their root cause in the philosophical and scientific movements of the last few hundred years, where there was a near total rejection of a transcendent reality, especially when it comes to moral norms”. Concern and opinion around justifiable truth online has been a focus of concern for decades. Anderson and Raine highlighted this in their 2017 article, The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online, when they shared that “experts are evenly split on whether the coming decade will see a reduction in false and misleading narratives online. Those forecasting improvement place their hopes in technological fixes and in societal solutions. Others think the dark side of human nature is aided more than stifled by technology”.
I would attest that if we could develop standards of professional journalism for the online publication of information similar to the standards of journalism that we have historically held print publications to, than we could better discern true information from biased or restricted information. In his Brookings Report on How To Combat Fake News and Disinformation, Darrell West shared that, “in order to maintain an open, democratic system, it is important that government, business, and consumers work together to solve these problems. Governments should promote news literacy and strong professional journalism in their societies. The news industry must provide high-quality journalism in order to build public trust and correct fake news and disinformation without legitimizing them. Technology companies should invest in tools that identify fake news, reduce financial incentives for those who profit from disinformation, and improve online accountability. Educational institutions should make informing people about news literacy a high priority. Finally, individuals should follow a diversity of news sources, and be skeptical of what they read and watch”. How we develop such tools and inter-agency cooperation to create and enforce standards in this digital age is a topic for greater discovery, but one that causes me great concern as we see such political and racial divide growing within our world.
So how do we discern and justify truth in today’s digital age. I would say – through a stronger focus on digital literacy and communal sharing. When we examine the ISTE Standards for Coaches we identify the need to encourage parents and professionals to engage with their community for the betterment of children and families (Standard 7a); and the need to encourage educators, professionals, and families to use in-person and online, interactive support and training programs (Standard 7b). Education around digital literacy at the youngest age possible on how to understand inquiry-enabling technology, and developing that education into the way students report and share on topics of discovery I hope will empower young students to take control of what is discoverable online, and justify that information with engaged and substantiated support from their community.
Anderson, Janna and Raine, Lee (2017). The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online. PEW Research Center: https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/10/19/the-future-of-truth-and-misinformation-online/
Thacker, Jason (2022). Discerning What’s True In A Digital Age. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/discerning-whats-true-in-a-digital-age/
West, Darrell (2017). How To Combat Fake News and Disinformation. Brookings: https://www.brookings.edu/research/how-to-combat-fake-news-and-disinformation/