Social media has done wonderful things to our lives, but it has also brought problems. Hate speech and toxic abuse are the worst aspects of that - and so is misinformation, writes Shane Creevy.

Misinformation is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity today. So much so that the World Health Organisation has defined the information crisis running parallel to the pandemic as the 'infodemic'.

And while most of us broadly understand the awfulness of hate speech, misinformation is something we are susceptible to. That makes it a much harder problem to solve.

But if we can understand it more, we can make better attempts to solve it. That is the thinking behind a four-part podcast series ‘The Truth Matters: A Guide to Misinformation’ created by myself and Della Kilroy.

Della and I first started thinking about these issues over 10 years ago when we worked at Storyful. Even then, we were producing "daily debunks" of false information that was going viral. Since then, the problem has only increased.

Let’s be clear, this is a problem that will never be fully "solved", but we can make better attempts to mitigate it. Some of that falls on us as individuals, some requires governments to think smartly about their approach, some of it falls on platforms and also to society at large.

"There's lots of good stuff in here about how to cultivate your own habits for information hygiene."

The intention of the podcast is to help you dive deep into the topic as we share conversations with people who have been working on the frontline of the crisis. We hope that by the end of the series you will feel empowered on the issue and more aware of what can be done to help.

We interviewed 18 fantastic minds for this series and had plenty of our own learnings to share. If we are going to make progress in the fight against misinformation, it will need a little bit of everything outlined in these four episodes.

Here, in the first episode, we unpack exactly what misinformation is and how people unwittingly spread it. We also drill into issues around media literacy - a key aspect that can help us "flatten the curve". There’s lots of good stuff in here about how to cultivate your own habits for information hygiene.

In it we will ask, what exactly is misinformation? What is disinformation? Why is it such a big topic now and what can be done to mitigate it?

Deliberate disinformation and accidental misinformation impacts on a massive scale

These are the key questions we set out to answer in this, the first episode of our podcast series 'The Truth Matters: A Guide to Misinformation'.

To help answer these questions, Della and I reflected on our experience, having first met over 10 years ago when working at social media news agency Storyful.

Even back then, when social media was still in its infancy, we produced "daily debunks" on viral false information around the web. Since then we have seen how deliberate disinformation and accidental misinformation impact politics and society on a scale that has shocked even us.

To help understand what individuals can do to help combat the scourge of misinformation, we speak to Mike Caufield, a digital literacy expert. He created the SIFT method to help people as they encounter misinformation in their busy lives.

It’s intended to only take a few seconds and consists of four steps:

S - Stop. Take a second before hitting that share button.

I - Investigate the source. Is the source you’re getting this from trustworthy? Are they the original source?

F - Find better coverage. Do a quick search to check if indeed this is true. You might find fact checks or other news sources delivering more accurate information.

T - Trace quotes and claims to the original context. This part is a little more involved and you mightn’t have to do it all the time. But spending time tracking down the true origin of the information will certainly be useful if the issue is important to you.

Find out more about SIFT here

We also hear from Martina Chapman, the coordinator of Media Literacy Ireland. If we think media literacy is confined to the classroom, Martina warns we’re in big trouble.

This problem requires lifelong learning, which saw Martina organise the Be Media Smart campaign, which includes advertising, media coverage, interviews and information on how to be, well, media smart.

You can find more resources about how to handle all the information and misinformation in your life here.

Finally, in this episode we had the privilege of sitting down with Dan Gillmor, a veteran in this space. He helped create a free course, called Mediactive, which allows anyone to reflect on how they build healthy news habits.

Check out Mediactive for yourself here.

You can listen to and follow the Truth Matters podcast here.