DISCOVERING, defending, and sharing truth has become one of the most pressing objectives of our age.

When you become the story, you realise how important truth really is. As a public figure, you get used to reading profiles published about yourself – and even more used to factual inaccuracies about your life.

Sometimes the inaccuracies are hilarious. A few weeks short of the 2016 election, a mainstream newspaper introduced me to its readers as “another young mother from the Highlands”.

My non-existent offspring was news to everybody, not least myself. It would be another six years before I could be described as a mother. We laughed it off; it was inconsequential.

Nicola Sturgeon addressed some of the more ridiculous claims about her private life in one of her last interviews, saying: “I read accounts of my life on social media and I think: ‘You know, it is so much more glamorous-sounding and so much more exciting’.”

Do exaggerated headlines, half-truths, and nonsensical Twitter claims matter? Well, in this Age of Disinformation, they do.

Innocent inaccuracies can become entrenched mistruths, which grow up to form a plague of disinformation. And disinformation is outright dangerous.

Most inaccuracies start somewhere on the axis of reputationally damaging to plain irritating. The BBC, weeks before launching BBC Verify, published an article entitled Who Is Kate Forbes?

It contained innocuous factual inaccuracies, particularly about my childhood. I have no idea as to the source because even a cursory glance over other interviews I’ve done would reveal the discrepancies.

What the article claims I did when I was four years old is irrelevant. In fact, it’s harmless. But the truth still matters.

Mistruths are infectious. One report gets quoted by another, and before long, it is accepted truth. I can’t remember who started it, but somebody claimed I’d once worked for Oxfam. I haven’t. But before I knew it, several articles printed that as fact in defence of an argument.

READ MORE: BBC launches new team to 'counter disinformation' and tackle conspiracy theories

I recall seeing a lengthy piece being shared extensively on social media during the leadership contest. The writer had never spoken to me, but had drawn certain conclusions about me which were wide off the mark.

It wasn’t a problem, even if it did prompt my detractors to fire off particularly irritating “quote tweets” dripping with presumptuous self-righteousness. But it did become a problem when it was accepted as gospel truth by mainstream media interviewers.

People ask why we don’t correct the truth. Often I do. But, it would be a full-time job and protesting too loudly carries its own risks of entrenching mistruths.

The examples I’ve used here are intentionally harmless and innocuous just to make my point. This column certainly isn’t an effort to share My Truth. Instead, it is about the risks to truth and the importance of defending it.

With plenty of ink spilt on political affairs and political people, all of us are participants in the defence of truth. Readers have a duty to question the accuracy of everything we read, and writers have a duty to meet that standard.

Clause One of the Ipso Editors’ Code of Practice is accuracy – that the press should not publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information or images.

I’ve got great respect for journalists who pride themselves on well-evidenced, factual reporting. It isn’t easy. Journalists are increasingly starved of extra resources – trying to investigate, report, publish online and in print – all on their own.

That’s before they run the social media gauntlet of a pile-on. Meanwhile, media corporations reduce their headcount and chase ad clicks for income.

READ MORE: SNP plan to tackle disinformation in the independence movement

For people like me working in the political square, there is another pressing question. To what extent do we care about the truth when it’s inconvenient – or do we just adopt whatever most aligns with our political preferences?

Most politicians I know seek to get it right, to their credit. But others knowingly get it wrong. They sow the seeds of partial truth, watering them with selected evidence and tending them with appeals to public fears.

Mistruth is pervasive. It’s a weed that spreads and chokes truth over time. It’s no wonder that most people don’t know who or what to believe or trust.

In this Age of Disinformation, the impact exists on a spectrum of damage. At one end, it can cause serious – in some cases, fatal – harm on an international scale. On the other end, it hollows out the centre ground in Scottish public discourse.

Disinformation isn’t new. It is becoming a greater problem as the public square becomes almost entirely virtual because social media has evolved to such an extent that it reaches millions upon millions of people. The public square is anywhere citizens meet to discuss public life. As it goes virtual, it also goes global.

Stewart McDonald MP has written an excellent comprehensive paper on the impact of disinformation in Scotland. He argues that disinformation is growing in sophistication, scale and reach.

Every minute, 500 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube, 5000 videos are viewed on TikTok and 695,000 stories are shared on Instagram. A 2018 study of Twitter showed that fake news spread faster and further than the truth. In a sense, that is no surprise. But it’s hugely worrying.

READ MORE: SNP MP fears 'disinformation attack' after emails hacked

In an instant, really bad actors can distort, mislead and manufacture hatred and instability. That means disinformation can happen on a scale and at a speed that is unprecedented in human history.

I recall my shock last spring, when I discovered that Scottish teenagers were being bombarded by Russian propaganda on TikTok. As they absorbed subtle stories and one-sided arguments, their perspectives on the illegal invasion of Ukraine were being shaped – both intentionally and effectively.

Children and teenagers are particularly vulnerable – published content is very accessible, social media algorithms are designed to hold young people’s attention and often they don’t have the critical thinking skills to determine fact from fiction yet. The National Literacy Trust suggested that only 2% of children can identify what is truly truthful on social media.

So, what’s to be done about all of this? Social media platforms are under legitimate pressure to improve the verification of information.

They are not held to account nearly enough for the rapid spread of disinformation. They are large businesses, profiting enormously from supplanting traditional forms of media, which must abide by far more regulations.

But the most effective way of sifting out disinformation is by saturating the public square with truth, facts and evidence. I’ve written previously about the importance of freedom of speech and expression, as a means of improving scrutiny and debate. I’ve heard people defend their attacks on freedom of speech as a means of fighting disinformation.

I don’t doubt their intentions, but I strongly contend that it is in defending freedom of speech that we fight disinformation.

Truth feels increasingly like a rare and valuable commodity. We can combat the black market of falsehoods by oversupplying the public square with hard facts and robust truth. Discover, defend and share the truth – it’s more needed than ever.