Fake News and Sustainability

Fake News and Sustainability


Written by Maggie Wilson for CLA Sustainability Council Newsletter

October 25, 2022


Fake news undermines sustainability by creating distrust in scientific evidence.

This is well-documented in tactics used to undermine climate science and has been emerging in many other areas, notably in recent years, science about COVID-19. Fake news is also used in political messaging, often appearing during election cycles. A common tactic used to undermine science is the use of fake news stories. Digital media has allowed this type of fake news to circulate faster than ever.

How can we fight misinformation? First, one must be able to identify fake news. It may not be as easy as it sounds. When we agree with the information or are uncertain, we are less likely to question it than when we disagree. Also, those using fake news use tactics that draw viewers into their misinformation and make it challenging to identify. An online game called “Bad News,” which has been experimentally validated has demonstrated its ability to help people identify fake news. Common strategies it illustrates are summarized in the acronym DEPICT: D-Discreding opponents, E – Emotion, P – Polarizing, I – Impersonation, C – Conspiracy theory, T – Trolling. Play the game here to learn more about these strategies or refresh your ability to detect fake news.

Once identified, you can take the next step in confronting fake news. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) reiterates that it is crucial not to repeat the lie. Repetition further spreads the lie. Moreover, the simple repetition of lies increases people’s likelihood of believing the lie is true. The EDF also recommends combating myths with the truth and correcting the lies without repeating them. Great advice for how to present facts over fallacies can be found in the Debunking Handbook. Consistent with avoiding polarization when communicating information, EDF also recommends avoiding using partisan language or sources because such language can alienate your audience.