I WAS in Shetland at the weekend, marvelling at the scenery and soaking up the exciting and diverse range of cultural events on offer at Word Play, a thoroughly wonderful festival celebrating - you’ve guessed it - the written word.

I wasn’t just a spectator, however, I was there to participate in a panel discussion on the “post-truth” world we currently exist in, that muddy quagmire of fake news, spin and conspiracy that pervades so much of our landscape and rhetoric. If you’re anything like me, you’re finding it increasingly tiring to wade through.

How we got here and where the heck it’s going to take us were the two fundamental questions we tried to answer, but you perhaps won’t be surprised to hear that despite an enlightening conversation and thoroughly engaged audience, we all left feeling grim and rather overwhelmed.

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The event couldn’t have come at a more prescient time, of course. Just as fake news was being named Word of the Year by the Collins Dictionary, US special prosecutor Robert Mueller was charging some of those at the heart of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign over their ties to Russian interference in the election. As part of this, Congress released a sample of the thousands of Facebook ads bought by Russian-backed fake accounts – and apparently seen by a staggering 126 million people – promoting divisive social and political messages around racism, sexism and Islamophobia, with the aim of at the very least disrupting, quite possibly swaying, the result.

The Russians aren’t alone in using such tactics, of course. Both sides of the Brexit debate used social media in a similar way, planting fake or at least highly questionable stories about the other side. We obliged sharing them all like mad, helping create and disseminate skewed or blatantly untrue narratives that it became impossible for experts and reputable media sources to correct.

At the same time, as more of us spend more of our waking hours on social media, ideological divides become ever wider; when you exist in a silo where you only read and debate opinions you agree with, when getting affirmation and “likes” is more important than being accurate, it can be a shock to the system to read an opinion you don’t like. Hence the abuse.Trump gets rightly pilloried for calling every piece of coverage he doesn’t like “fake news”, but if we’re honest all of us on Twitter or Facebook can probably point to a time when we’ve shared a story we wanted to be true about someone we didn’t like, without checking its voracity.

Uber-ideological digital outlets masquerading as news platforms, meanwhile, capitalise on this by employing deliberate strategies to target, attack and undermine “mainstream media” platforms and journalists.

Part of me can understand why folk are attracted to conspiracies and the obvious comfort of black and white thinking and ideologies that seem to offer simple solutio, especially after all the tumult of the last couple of years. As I explained during the debate in Shetland, however, I genuinely worry that this increasingly febrile atmosphere risks robbing us of our critical faculties.

But rather than simply moaning about it – which my friends and family will confirm I spend far too much time doing – the Word Play event inspired me try and come up with some realistic and practical ways to negotiate our current predicament.

Interestingly, as pointed out by various members of the audience in Lerwick, living in a small, isolated community can help. Knowing that you’re highly likely to bump into the person you are tempted to get into an abusive shouting match with on Facebook or Twitter apparently helps people refrain from landing the final abusive blow.

But maybe we can all learn something from this approach, whether we live in a tiny village or a big city: let’s all vow to count to five before sharing that spurious story or being rude to someone online.

Perhaps more importantly, however, we need to make sure children and young people are able to create and sustain healthy online lives. We need to train them to step back and question what they read and imbibe rather than simply accepting it at face value. I don’t doubt that achieving this will be difficult, especially since, as most of us remember, young brains are susceptible to black and white thought.

But, as highlighted by teachers in Shetland and elsewhere, the current curriculum needs to catch up more quickly to the realities of the online world our children are already saturated in from such a young age, training them as early as possible in the fundamental skills they will need to think critically. To make this happen, teachers and education authorities will need to be creative and flexible; formal exams need not be imperative, though debate, discussion and workshops as part of a new compulsory subject - Digital Life - would be.

I realise teachers are already struggling with competing educational priorities. But what could be more important than ensuring the next generation find a way to navigate the digital landscape more successfully than their parents and grandparents?