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The rise of the internet and other digital technologies has transformed how businesses operate. Along with the inarguable benefits of this age comes a daunting challenge: avoiding falling for or participating in misinformation, which can lead to costly mistakes, damaged reputations and lost opportunities. Fortunately, there are ways of working proactively to avoid such pitfalls, with an embrace of digital literacy as a starting point.
What is digital literacy?
The internet broadly, and social media platforms particularly, are breeding grounds for rumors, false claims and inaccurate statistics. These can gain traction at a frightening pace, causing confusion and chaos, and small business owners are uniquely at risk. Digital literacy refers, in part, to effectively accessing, evaluating and using information from digital sources. In today’s landscape, this is not just a nice-to-have skill, but a necessity.
From marketing strategies to financial planning and customer interactions, every aspect of operations can be influenced by information obtained online, and owners who are digitally literate are simply better equipped to make informed choices.
The role of continuous learning
As an owner, it’s your responsibility to stay informed about the latest digital trends and challenges — to actively and regularly update your knowledge — and there are a number of areas to consider when doing so:
- Evolution of technology: As AI and other digital tools become more sophisticated, so do the methods used to spread misinformation. Business owners need to acquire a basic level of understanding regarding the capabilities of such emerging technologies.
- Evolving platforms: Social media and other online communication channels seem to be ever-transforming, especially those wielding complex algorithms for sharing content. It’s important to understand how information spreads on these platforms so you can adapt strategies.
- Cybersecurity knowledge: Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly creative, leaving small businesses vulnerable to phishing attacks and data breaches. Such bad actors could then leverage your own technology and tools and spread false information in the name of your business, unless you stay ahead of the information curve, or engage someone who is.
- Sharing skill sets: Digital literacy shouldn’t be a skill that rests just with the business owner: Providing training to employees is a great way to add an extra layer of defense, especially when it comes to those staff members authorized to share information via social media or other channels, as well as key decision makers.
Practical strategies for protecting against misinformation
- Cultivate a fact-based culture: Advancing a company environment that values fact-based decision-making means insisting that employees back their decisions with reliable data. By instilling a sense of positive skepticism — encouraging people to question information they encounter — you can greatly reduce the risk of inadvertently internalizing or spreading inaccuracies or distortions.
- Create an information-sharing policy: It’s helpful to establish clear and company-wide guidelines for verifying and disseminating data, particularly on social media.
- Be rigorous in verification: Never share information that’s obscure or which can’t be traced to a reputable source (which can include reputable news outlets, government websites and well-credentialed organizations) — ideally to multiple sources. There are a number of organizations and websites dedicated to such verification, including popular fact-checkers like Snopes, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org.
- Leverage AI: Although advances in technology have accelerated the spread of misinformation, it can also help in combatting it. Artificial intelligence, for example, can aid in detecting false information by identifying inconsistencies and flagging potential inaccuracies.