Building Civil Society Capacity to Mitigate and Counter Disinformation

6. Public Awareness/Media Literacy Campaigns

Updated On
Apr 03, 2021

Digital and media literacy interventions are implemented under the assumption that if audiences can utilize necessary critical thinking skills while consuming online and traditional media content, it will increase their ability to differentiate between factual and misleading or fake content. CSOs are particularly well placed to implement these programs because of the role of civil society in creating cross-cutting cleavages and shared interests. Beyond potential improvements in citizen capacity to identify false news, these programs can help raise awareness of how disinformation narratives disproportionately harm women and marginalized groups. Plausibly, this shared awareness could help civic groups build broader support for advocacy or responses, although the evidence for the effect of these programs on citizen attitudes toward marginalized groups is yet unclear. These types of interventions aim to help audiences exercise caution and avoid blind trust of media content and other information available on the internet. The interventions are deployed in response to audiences not only consuming disinformation but also assisting in spreading such content to a larger group of audiences without efforts to verify content accuracy. The increasing media shift into the digital environment has proved to be a double-edged sword. The internet and social media platforms have improved access to media and information, as well as the plurality of news sources, but have nonetheless contributed to a decline in the quality of news and information. Improved media and digital literacy among audiences could play a significant role in helping reduce susceptibilities to disinformation overtime.

As some implementers identified through their work, much of the digital and media literacy and associated critical thinking skills start can and should be taught from a young age, similar to other necessary education skills. International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) 's Learn to Discern (L2D) is one of the most successful media literacy initiatives that builds upon the point mentioned earlier. IREX has developed a media literacy curriculum that is taught in classrooms, libraries, and community centers in Ukraine, reaching over 62,000 individuals of all ages. The approach adopted by IREX aims to build communities' resilience to resist disinformation, propaganda, and hate speech that is widespread in traditional and online media in Ukraine. After gaining much traction and success in Ukraine, L2D has been implemented in Serbia, Tunisia, Jordan, Indonesia, and the United States. With an interactive curriculum that engages audiences on the topic through games and multimedia content, the L2D initiative was able to attract young adults and raise awareness among them on the impact of disinformation on the lives of average citizens. 

A year and a half after the kick-off of the project in Ukraine, IREX conducted an impact evaluation survey in 2017, which reflected that 28% of L2D beneficiaries are "more likely to demonstrate a sophisticated knowledge of the news media industry" and 25% are "more likely to self-report checking multiple news sources." After piloting L2D-enhanced curricula in 2018 for over 5,000 students in the 8th and 9th grades in 50 schools, IREX evaluated their beneficiaries through a survey that demonstrated that L2D students performed better than peers in a controlled group when "identifying facts and opinions, false stories, hate speech, and demonstrated a deeper knowledge of the news media sector." Since then, IREX has expanded the curricula to over 650 schools across Ukraine and collaborate with the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science to incorporate the curricula into the education system in Ukraine. IREX has received support from the Canadian government, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and the U.K. Government's Department for International Development, and has partnered with the local organizations Academy of Ukrainian Press and StopFake to implement the L2D program since 2015. 

Due to the increased attention on pro-Russian propaganda and disinformation, Ukraine and neighboring countries in Eastern Europe have served as the testing laboratory for a large number of countering disinformation initiatives. However, media and digital literacy initiatives have not been limited to Europe or to addressing Russian propaganda, and have taken many forms elsewhere around the world. The growing use of information and technology tools across Africa has brought about initiatives such as the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) aiming to educate youth on the effective use of those tools. AFRICMIL kicked off the first Africa Media Literacy Conference in 2008 to further promote that goal. With support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), AFRICMIL has worked with the Nigerian youth to enhance their understanding of the impact of media and information consumption to increase their media literacy. The conference launched the MIL University Network of Nigeria (MILUNN) to engage youth in Nigeria to be more critically aware of the role of media and information in their communities and provide awareness on the topic. The contribution made by AFRICMIL to raising awareness among journalists on ICT tools and creating a dialogue between peers locally and regionally across the content has proved to be instrumental in ensuring the voices of young people are heard. Egyptian fact-checking organization Matsda2sh (“do not believe”) has reached over 500 thousand followers on Facebook with awareness videos and photos highlighting the dangers of disinformation to the society with infographics and debunking statements with facts, including statements made by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

In Indonesia, the anti-hoax grassroots civil society organization Masyarakat Anti Fitnah Indonesia (MAFINDO) has led a CekFacta, a content verification initiative site that promotes digital literacy among the public. MAFINDO's Facebook page has over 34,000 likes on their Facebook page through which it raises awareness on hoaxes and the dangers they pose to the community. MAFINDO has also worked on mapping out a popular hoax in 2018 and 2019 to enhance audiences' understanding of the malicious content that infiltrates their societies the most. The group has posted videos on their page that aim to highlight the dangers of hoaxes and false information; two of the videos uploaded on Facebook have reached over 32,000. However, despite the relatively large number of page followers and the traction that some of the group's content gets from audiences, recent posts have not received more than an average of a few hundred views and minimal likes and interaction from viewers. Moreover, another Indonesian group, Turn Back Hoax, has more than 200,000 likes and followers on their Facebook page and receives regular engagement on posts from followers.

Open source global initiatives such as the Mozilla Web Literacy Framework and the Facebook Digital Literacy Library, where users can access educational literacy materials that can be accessed at any time and anywhere, offer an opportunity for users to learn how to effectively navigate the virtual world. Interactive games such as the Bad News DROG supported by the Dutch Journalism Fund takes users on a journey where users are asked to prove their credibility. Such interactive software serves as an educational tool. It provides a more digestible context for the dangers of disinformation in the daily lives of citizens and to society in general. The News Literacy Project's Checkology initiative is built to support both students and educators and serves as an educational tool to provide comprehensive understanding to consumers of information. The project claims to have achieved significant results in the virtual classrooms as "more than two-thirds of students were able to identify the standards of quality journalism after completing Checkology lessons."

Digital and media literacy programs significantly helped with understanding audiences' consumption and in framing audiences’ needs in order to build their resilience to false information, primarily targeted disinformation that aims to create divisions between citizens.