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Media Literacy

David Suzuki CBD gums scam shows the need for media literacy

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The David Suzuki Foundation receives daily calls from people who are tricked by fake pitches on Facebook

Elsa Olofsson / Unsplash

Would you buy cannabis gums from me? Apparently hundreds of people would. The only problem is, I’m not selling them and I’m not looking for business opportunities. But recent online memes, stories, and other disinformation have not only led me to sell and endorse CBD gums, but also got involved in a lawsuit with businessman Kevin O’Leary over them!

People see the fake information, click through to a realistic product page, submit their personal and financial information, and order the products. It seems that they most often find the pitches on Facebook.

I’m sad that someone would spend money to buy products that they thought I made or recommended. The scam is still cheating on innocent people. They contact the David Suzuki Foundation daily.

That made me think about how and where people get and process information. I’ve been a science communicator for more than half a century and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to reach people. How do we ensure that as many as possible have access to accurate, credible information so that we can make informed decisions about important matters?

I was fortunate to have worked at the CBC for many years. As a public broadcaster, it has been producing high-quality content and complying with journalistic standards since before the Second World War – and helped me gain my credibility as a communicator.

Today I compare that type of relationship – one based on accurate and fair communication of relatively different types of evidence and point of view – to what I see online and on social media, and it’s shocking. False information and scams abound, along with the worst political polarization in recent times.

Fraud and misinformation has been around as long as we have, and perpetrators have always used the best available technology to reach people. But in less than 30 years, the internet has become our main source of information, and the ubiquity of social media has created effective and inexpensive ways to disseminate information, from bad to good and everything in between.

Almost 60 percent of the world’s population – 4.66 billion people – are active Internet users, and most access them via mobile devices. It infiltrates and informs every aspect of our life.

As Marshall McLuhan postulated in the 1960s, our technologies have become extensions of ourselves.

As these systems evolve and become more powerful, complex, and efficient, so must our collective ability to understand and use them.

With more information online – from recipes to weather forecasts, product info and politics – how can we make sure they are reliable, that we can trust them enough to make good decisions? If we’re wrong, what’s at stake? Many people look for information that confirms their beliefs rather than information that could help them better understand a problem or be fed. And, as the recent opposition to vaccines shows, much of it promotes “personal freedom” while ignoring the responsibility that comes with it.

In today’s digital society, media literacy must match the sophistication of mass communication methods and big tech. But that’s not the case, and we’re seeing the consequences, from increasing polarization to revelations about how platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp fuel divisions and conflicts in the name of profit.

Environmentalists often encounter the problem of misinformation. In 2021, a dwindling minority still rejects the validity of climate science, despite amazing evidence that the crisis is upon us and massive international scientific consensus on the urgent and necessary way forward.

How can we come together, have informed conversations, and take advantage of evidence-based decision-making? It is clearer than ever that democracy works best when people have access to accurate, credible information.

We must see our information systems – news media, social media, etc. – as the foundation of democracy, and we must insist that they and the people who use them stay healthy.

We should invest more public funds to ensure that our media industry is healthy, that social media is properly regulated, and that most people are media literate enough to consume online information safely and responsibly. And we have to take responsibility and get better at synthesizing information, considering different perspectives and working together to find solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

It all starts with productive, respectful conversations based on good information. (And maybe some CBD – but not from me!)

Written with contributions from Brendan Glauser, David Suzuki Foundation Communications Director.

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

@nowtoronto

Keywords

News social media

David Suzuki

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.

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