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Data starts with you 

Eline Lincklaen Arriëns

Misinformation is spreading. In a world dominated by the media and where everyone claims to be an expert, it can be hard to distinguish between facts and opinion. Capturing this, last week Gianfranco Cecconi wrote an opinion piece (“From fake news to fake data”) that focuses on fake news and how it can (and to an extent already  does) give rise to the creation and spread of fake data. My immediate reaction led me to the SCDS forum and inspired the question: how can we combat fake news and ensure that data is reliable and accurate? Let’s first take a few steps back.  

To start, we all create data. Our search history, downloads and purchases (to name a few) are meticulously recorded on our smart phone, smart watch, laptop, or credit card, and are stored in a database somewhere in the world for an x period of time. As we continuously create data, and as it is being stored, institutions (public and private) are analysing, sharing, and using the data for their own research or initiatives. Overly simplified, our data is either being used to challenge an existing hypothesis, or to re-enforce one.  

If we give consent (whether knowingly or automatically), the data we created can be used and shared to other organisations for research to improve a product or service, help customise advertising to attract more consumers, or to influence users and consumers habits. For the end user (i.e. the consumer), this is all a silent automatic process akin to a faint buzz in the background. Most people are unaware that this happening, let alone the extent of its impact and influence.1,2  

We all have a responsibility with data, and it starts with being aware and conscious of how we are giving consent and sharing our data.3 Though not all the data we are sharing is being misused or is contributing to ‘fake news’, the small percentage that is has fuelled our shouts for more security and privacy measures. Next to talk on security and privacy measures, we need to start talking about data responsibility beyond accountability. It is easy to point fingers and blame someone, but is not just the government, tech companies and media organisations that are responsible or accountable for how data is being collected, used, and shared. It starts with us as individuals. We are the ones that are creating this data. We are the ones that are giving consent to how it is being used and shared. We are, whether willingly or unwillingly and directly or indirectly, feeding into this cycle of misinformation and fake news.   

This still doesn’t answer my initial question though: how can we combat fake news and ensure that data is reliable and accurate? For me, it starts with being aware of what we are doing and how it can have a knock-on-effect. When we take, for example, an online quiz for fun with our friends and click “I agree” to a pop up that we need to go through to enter a page without reading what we are agreeing to, we are responsible for the data that the institution on the other side is receiving, and by extension how it is being used.  Stay informed and be mindful of your actions. All data and facts have a starting point, be responsible for how yours is used.