Misinformation will never go away, but teaching the community to spot it can rob lies of their power, writes Tanya Notley of Western Sydney University in part three of a series on the worsening spread of misinformation in line
The spread of misinformation has had very real consequences during the pandemic – vaccine myths and false claims about the virus have undermined public health orders, increased disease risk and divided families.
Despite attempts to suppress its spread, misleading information is commonplace: 59% of 2,034 Australians in a 2021 survey had encountered misinformation in the previous week.
And Australians don’t feel equipped to deal with it. Although 74% of 3,510 adults polled in another survey felt the spread of misinformation online needed to be tackled, less than four in 10 were confident in their ability to check whether information they had found online were true.
* Part One: Cracking the Misinformation Code
* Part two: Mysterious algorithms that govern our lives
Young Australians face the same struggle. Only one in three of the 1,069 children aged 8 to 16 surveyed thought they knew how to differentiate between false and misleading information and factual and reliable information.
This problem often seems insoluble, but improving media literacy can help. Media literacy refers to the knowledge and skills people need to think critically about how media works, how it represents the world, and how it is produced and used.
Developing a higher level of media literacy increases people’s ability to detect disinformation by stimulating their critical thinking, enhancing their knowledge of how media industries work and informing their decision-making.
A fully media-informed citizen will be aware of the many ways in which they can use the media to participate in society. They will know how media is created, funded, regulated and distributed and they will understand their data and privacy rights and responsibilities.
In Australia, the Digital Platforms Inquiry made recommendations for government action on media literacy in 2017. Almost five years later, the Federal Government has still not implemented policies and major media education programs. This follows the trend of many administrations around the world.
Finland is a notable exception, where a national media education policy is supported by all ministries. Finnish policies have also been made possible by high-quality learning resources and collaboration between national public cultural institutions, educators, media companies, community organizations, NGOs and public sector bodies.
In most countries however, media literacy efforts are instead led and implemented by libraries, public and community broadcasters, schools and civil society organizations. Some of these efforts have been well evaluated and shown to help learners identify and avoid misinformation,
In the United States, the free and open Stanford Civic Online Reasoning Course (COR) was developed in response to a large study which found that most high school students were unable to distinguish commercials from news reports, or identify false and misleading information posted by parties with vested interests.
The COR course was designed by observing the practices of professional fact checkers. Learners are encouraged to ask three essential questions when encountering information online: who is behind this information, what evidence is being presented to me, and what are other sources saying.
A number of evaluations show that the COR course is effective: it helps students apply critical thinking to information so they can make more informed decisions about who and what to trust online.
The IREX Learning to Discern project, originally designed to counter state-sponsored disinformation campaigns in Ukraine, has been implemented in many countries. It focuses on developing critical thinking skills and abilities to help citizens distinguish manipulative content from trustworthy information.
The course has been customized for use with different audiences and implemented in schools, libraries and community centers. An evaluation of the course held with Ukrainian adults found that people who had taken the course were more likely to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the news media industry and were more adept at identifying fake news. The researchers found that this effect persisted for more than a year after people completed the program.
People wishing to develop their basic media literacy skills can access a range of free online courses. Many media literacy courses are often built on a model of key concepts that helps define the types of questions to ask.
The Australian Media Literacy Alliance’s key conceptual framework encourages learners to ask critical questions and helps educators adapt questions to context. To help identify false and misleading information, learners should be encouraged to ask:
* Can I verify the legitimacy of the people or institutions that created this information, and why they did it?
* Is this information accurate and correct or is it false or misleading?
* Is the information intended to persuade a specific audience and if so, why?
* What types of language are used to present the information: is there evidence of bias, sensationalist language or persuasive techniques?
* How does this information make me feel and why? Can I put my emotions aside to consider the claims that are made and the facts that are presented to me?
* How could this information be used to create, challenge or break relationships between different people and/or institutions?
These types of questions can then be incorporated into learning activities that can be designed to be creative, fun, interactive and memorable for the audience they seek to engage.
Beyond critical questions, there are a range of technical skills that can help people identify manipulated or fabricated images – these are often used in disinformation campaigns to get people’s attention.
Misinformation does not go away and meeting this challenge is complicated. Developing media literacy for children and adults is one way to tackle the problem and build a sustainable future for a global information and media ecosystem.
Tanya Notley is Associate Professor of Media at Western Sydney University and Vice President of the Australian Media Literacy Alliance (AMLA).
Notley reveals that one of AMLA’s aims is to develop and promote a government-endorsed national media literacy strategy for Australia.
The Australian adult media literacy survey mentioned in the article was part of a project funded by the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), located in the United States, which used a grant received from Facebook.
The media literacy survey of young Australians mentioned in the article received funding from Google Australia and the Museum of Australian Democracy.
Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.