SCOTS should be taught how to spot fake news and misinformation ahead of indyref2, Ross Greer has said.
The Scottish Green MSP told the Untribal politics podcast that there will be more “deliberate, malicious misinformation” during the next independence referendum, and that the public should be prepared.
Greer suggested a public information campaign and education in schools could be the key to make sure voters are making an informed choice.
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The MSP also argued that “hostile states” are likely to attempt to intervene with fake news and misinformation, and that older people are likely to be at risk.
After the 2014 referendum, pro-Russian activists were accused of running a disinformation campaign to discredit the result by wrongly alleging it had been rigged.
We also previously told how Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Russia has an “interest” in the Scottish independence debate online, but refused to reveal any more on security grounds.
It comes after SNP MP Stewart McDonald launched a competition for young people across Scotland to submit short videos on the impact disinformation has had on them.
Speaking to the Untribal politics podcast, Greer said that although Scots should look back on the 2014 referendum debate “with pride”, there are still lessons to be learned.
He added: “We know that there’s going to be much more in the way of deliberate, malicious misinformation next time round.
“So what I think is really important ahead of the referendum, and both governments should want this, all political parties should want this, we should be collectively talking about, how do we educate the public.
“And I don’t mean this to sound patronising, but how do we support people to distinguish between fake news, misinformation etc, and the real thing?
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“Because that is one of the biggest threats to not just our democracy, but to all democracy across this planet right now, is the very deliberate attempts to feed misinformation into public debate.”
Greer continued: “I think that should be a collective mission for us. Public information campaigns, education in schools etc, to show people, how do you make sure that you are able to critically examine this stuff?”
The Green MSP added that while a lot of misinformation appears in social media, news outlets and broadcasters in the mainstream media can also fall into the trap of sharing fake news.
Greer added that he has more concerns about older people than young people being aware of misinformation, as the younger generation has grown up online and can find it easier to spot.
He said: “And by that I’m not talking about just folk in their 60s and above – probably anyone over the age of 35, if I’m to set a very arbitrary limit on this here.
“There will be people pushing disinformation into this campaign on behalf of both sides, not necessarily because they want one side or the other to win, but because we know, for example, with some hostile states, some other countries, they just push disinformation to sow chaos, to sow mistrust. It’s not that they want a specific outcome.
“I’m quite sure there will be people claiming that Putin, for example, either wants a Yes vote or a No vote for whatever reason in the next independence referendum.
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“What I think is much, much more likely is hostile governments, like those in Russia, will just want to sow as much chaos as they possibly can into the debate so that people don’t trust each other, so they don’t trust their authorities, so they don’t trust the media. That’s in the interest of the people who want to undermine our democracy.”
We previously told how Defence Secretary Wallace said Russia and other nations “take an interest to magnify nationalist debates”, including in Scotland.
And in 2020 Westminster’s Intelligence and Security Committee concluded Russian interference in UK politics was the new normal and that there was “credible open-source commentary that Russia undertook to influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014”.