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Front liners fighting fake news: global perspectives on mobilising young people as media literacy advocates

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With young people at the vanguard of technology adoption and media consumption, many governments are actively incorporating young people into their public education campaigns, and young people are enlisting themselves as media literacy advocates. This article reviews a selection of such media literacy programmes to unpack their key thrusts and components so as to identify best practices and learning points. It will also closely investigate one particular youth-led effort and chart its conception, execution and development.
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Journal of Children and Media
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Front liners fighting fake news: global perspectives
on mobilising young people as media literacy
advocates
Sun Sun Lim & Kai Ryn Tan
To cite this article: Sun Sun Lim & Kai Ryn Tan (2020): Front liners fighting fake news: global
perspectives on mobilising young people as media literacy advocates, Journal of Children and
Media, DOI: 10.1080/17482798.2020.1827817
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/17482798.2020.1827817
Published online: 29 Sep 2020.
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Front liners ghting fake news: global perspectives on
mobilising young people as media literacy advocates
Sun Sun Lim
a
and Kai Ryn Tan
a
a
St Joseph's Institution International Singapore, Singapore
ABSTRACT
With young people at the vanguard of technology adoption and
media consumption, many governments are actively incorporating
young people into their public education campaigns, and young
people are enlisting themselves as media literacy advocates. This
article reviews a selection of such media literacy programmes to
unpack their key thrusts and components so as to identify best
practices and learning points. It will also closely investigate one
particular youth-led eort and chart its conception, execution and
development.
KEYWORDS
Fake news; media literacy;
digital literacy; public
education; social media;
young people
The rising adoption of digital technology worldwide has been accompanied by the
growing scourge of fake news. There is thus an awakening realisation to the critical
importance of media literacy, with policy makers experimenting with creative approaches
in their public education eorts. Rather than being the sole preserve of schools and
educators, media literacy is nally recognised as a skill that every media consumer must
be vested with. One emerging trend around the globe is an active undertaking to mobilise
young people as media literacy advocates by tapping into their natural anity for
technology and their avid media consumption. Rather than simply being schooled in
media literacy skills, young people are now being drawn in to teach these skills to their
peers, and sometimes to their parents and extended family.
Mobilising young people as advocates/ambassadors
Countries across the globe are making a concerted drive to boost media literacy and
specically, digital literacy among their young people. In the emerging economy of Brazil,
media analysis studies have been made compulsory for school-going children since
December 2017 (The Straits Times, 2018). The country’s most recent initiative,
EducaMídia, was launched in June 2019 to train basic education teachers on digital
literacy skills that can be imparted to children and adolescents (Estarque, 2020). All
training is free and has reached 2,500 educators via face-to-face workshops and another
5,600 online. EducaMídia is also involved in Inova Educação, a São Paulo state govern-
ment program that introduced new curricular content related to technology including
CONTACT Sun Sun Lim sunsun_lim@sutd.edu.sg 139 Sunbird Road, Singapore 487198, Singapore
JOURNAL OF CHILDREN AND MEDIA
https://doi.org/10.1080/17482798.2020.1827817
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
“Muito Além das “Fake News”“ (Far Beyond “Fake News”). This initiative potentially
impacts 2 million students.
In Vietnam, one of Southeast Asia’s less developed yet fastest growing countries, the
lack of credible government agencies promoting digital and media literacy has drawn
international partners to aid in this cause. In January 2019, the Swedish Embassy in the
capital city of Hanoi launched the “Fake ≠ Fact” toolkit for secondary and high school
teachers and students (An Nhien, 2019). Instructions and exercises aim to inspire teachers
to educate and interact with their students on the topic of false online information.
Students are taught to critically assess information sources as well as to analyse and
deconstruct online language and arguments before creating original videos to raise
public awareness of fake information online.
In more well-resourced countries, the training for young people is signicantly more
systematic and comprehensive. France has one of the world’s most extensive national
media and internet literacy eorts to train students from middle school and beyond to
spot false online information. Since 2015, the French government has increased funding
for courses about the downsides of the online world, equipping about 30,000 teachers
and other educational professionals with digital literacy training annually. Some local
authorities have even introduced a requirement that young adults complete an internet
literacy course to receive welfare benets. At an internet literacy workshop outside Paris,
students were tasked with creating their own false news articles as an exercise in critical
literacy and self-awareness (Satariano & Peltier, 2018). In another course by an investiga-
tive journalist, French high school students were screened a fake conspiracy mini-
documentary before being taught how to evaluate the veracity of a news story
(Beardsley, 2018). Overall, these initiatives point to a country that is struggling with the
problem of fake news as manifested in its introduction of relevant anti-fake news laws. But
they also demonstrate that legislation is being complemented by an active engagement
of young people.
Many of these programmes adopt an experiential, learning-by-doing approach by
giving young people a taste of news creation so that they distil valuable insights. The
Italian government, in collaboration with Facebook, has been proactively training a new
generation of students in safe Internet use as well as recognising fake news and con-
spiracy theories through class assignments prepared by reporters. High school students
are educated about the political economy dimensions of social media enterprises, learn-
ing how their Facebook “likes” are monetised and politicised. They have been roped in as
“fake-news hunters” (Horowitz, 2017) and encouraged to reach out to experts to verify
fake news and re-report the stories by calling out the falsehoods in a bid to educate
others. In the same vein, the UK’s National Literacy Trust (2018) stresses in their free online
public education resources that in teaching critical digital literacy to students, educators
should encourage young people to gain practical experience of responsible news creation
to demystify how news is made.
Besides the clear interest to ramp up the digital literacy of young people in light of the
growing onslaught of fake news, another distinct motivation in many countries is insulat-
ing its people against foreign interference by bad actors in their domestic politics. In this
regard, Finland has been proactive. As early as 2014, two years before Russia meddled in
the US elections, Finland had already launched an anti-fake news initiative for citizens of
all ages. In their social studies classes and through digital literacy toolkits, Finnish students
2S. S. LIM AND K. R. TAN
from elementary through to high school were trained to become “digital detectives” to
spot disinformation online by examining claims on YouTube and social media, comparing
media bias in clickbait articles, and authoring their own fake news stories (Mackintosh,
2019). These eorts seemed to bear fruit as in March 2018, Finland ranked rst out of 35
European countries in a study measuring resilience to the post-truth phenomenon.
In Ukraine too, since 2018, ve years after the war in eastern Ukraine between
government forces and Russia-backed separatists that saw a subsequent surge in propa-
ganda and disinformation, high school students across the country have been primed to
better identify fake stories, propaganda and hate speech via the “Listen to Discern”
programme funded by the US and UK. Students who attended these media literacy
lessons were found to be twice as likely to detect hate speech and 18% better at
identifying fake news than students who missed the lessons (Ingber, 2019).
Notably, governments have not had to go it alone in boosting their young citizens’
digital literacy. Technology companies have also stepped forward as part of their corpo-
rate social responsibility programmes. “Be Internet Awesome” is a media literacy educa-
tion programme initiated by Google in 2017. As of June 2019, in collaboration with The
Net Safety Collaborative and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, Google added six new
media literacy activities into the programme curriculum targeting children in the US.
These activities train children in determining information source credibility, identifying
and responding to online deceptions such as phishing attempts and detecting bots
posing as humans through key vocabulary, class discussions, and gameplay (Be Internet
Awesome, 2019; Houser, 2019). Social media giant Facebook has also striven to promote
media literacy, likely also a strategic eort to repair its battered reputation following the
Cambridge Analytica scandal. It launched its Digital Literacy Library in 2018 to provide
educational resources for educators of children aged 11 to 18 to address topics like
privacy, reputation, and wellbeing. It also introduced its Youth Portal to oer educational
material directly to teens, principally explaining to them how Facebook works, but also
hosting a blog for young people to share media literacy tips with each other. The thrust of
these technology companies’ media literacy initiatives is essentially one of direct youth
engagement.
Fundamentally, these public and private sector initiatives to equip young people with
media literacy skills have the potential to build competencies, drive empowerment, and
inspire agency. Vested with critical discernment, these young people have the potential to
engage in their own advocacy eorts to champion media literacy. XS News is one such an
initiative by young people for young people that seeks to enhance media literacy.
Case study: XS news
XS News is an Instagram-based news account that aims to “turn excess information into
XS-sized news articles” so that news is more comprehensible for young people. The
initiative was started by Marco Andono Sie and Alexander Brown with the help of Kai
Ryn Tan, three 16-year old high school students based in Singapore and Indonesia.
They share the conviction that knowledge of world news is more vital than ever in an
increasingly globalised world and developed XS News when they realised that their
teenaged friends do not actively keep up with current aairs. Upon probing their peers,
they discovered that this apparent apathy was due not to a lack of interest, but to their
JOURNAL OF CHILDREN AND MEDIA 3
struggle with understanding lengthy news articles containing complex economic, poli-
tical and technical jargon. Another stumbling block was their lifestyle. Teens’ hectic
schedules tend to be lled with academic commitments and extra-curricular activities,
thereby depriving them of the time needed to read news regularly. To address these
issues, XS News posts concise summaries of important global events and topics on
Instagram, the most widely-used platform among teens in Singapore (and various other
countries in Asia, Europe and North America).
After developing the concept and writing their own posts for three months, the team
has since expanded its stable of writers and graphic designers whom they recruited
online, receiving applications from diverse geographical regions including countries
such as Indonesia, India, Canada, USA and Chile. All of the XS News content creators
work pro bono and are individually credited for each post with their Instagram handle
being tagged. This gives the creators a sense of pride and ownership, but also the
valuable opportunity to directly experience what it means to be a news purveyor.
XS News covers mostly current events, posting at least once a day and when the
situation arises, it also posts Instagram stories featuring breaking news. The editorial team
maintains an active list of topics to be featured and schedules them according to global
developments, supplementing current events with posts on concepts, historical mile-
stones, and famous personalities. They have reported on issues such as the plight of
Myanmar’s Rohingya people and the Brexit saga, reviewed epochal events such as the
Yalta Conference and introduced prominent public gures such as Tsai Ing Wen, Sundar
Pichai, and Julian Assange. To address young people’s poor nancial knowledge, they
have also explained the basics of economics and business with posts on ination and the
origins and uses of bitcoin, for example.
For each post, the writers typically review news reports and reference materials from
reputable international sources before condensing the information into 300 words or less,
formatted as short paragraphs or bullet points for a quick and easy read. Complex terms
are rephrased and more obscure ones eliminated. When the use of certain terminology is
unavoidable, the writers oer simple denitions to educate readers. The editorial team
reviews each writer’s post for grammar, comprehensibility and house style, before send-
ing it on to the graphic designers for formatting and posting.
Responses to XS News have been positive from teens following the account, liking
posts, and sharing that they nd the bite sized news stories appealing and easy to under-
stand. Followers of the XS News account also message the team with requests and feed-
back on other topics they should cover. From such interactions, the founders have learnt
a great deal about engaging audiences, monitoring social media trac, and leveraging
network dynamics, tapping the reach of inuencers and “decoding” the algorithmic
structures of these platforms. To be sure, they have also received negative feedback and
discouraging comments but these adverse experiences provide precious learning
moments. The editorial team has consequently gained deep insights into the nature of
social media interactions and the online disinhibition that users exhibit through posting
obnoxious comments and trolling behaviour. The team has also become more sensitised to
the polarised nature of political views and learnt to use more value-neutral language as
well as to express their ideas in an impartial manner to cater to their diverse audience.
The team has also received recognition in the form of angel investor funding. Co-founders
Andono Sie and Brown represented XS News at the Young Founders Summit in Beijing in
4S. S. LIM AND K. R. TAN
October 2019, an international competition that awards seed funding to promising ideas by
young people. XS News won the competition, providing funding and professional mentoring
by industry experts to accelerate their media literacy endeavours. Since then, the XS News
youth have been busy beeng up their skills by developing a proprietary XS News app,
learning how to code, and starting a companion TikTok account to boost user engagement
across multiple platforms. Their goal is to make XS News even more user-friendly by posting
short informative videos and giving users the ability to curate the type of news they want
to see.
Learning points
Fundamentally, we should not assume that young people’s uency with digital gadgets
translates seamlessly into an ability to assess the credibility of online information. Instead,
young people need to be taught to look beyond the surface of online information and
ascertain the organisations behind it and to infer their motives (Breakstone, McGrew,
Smith, Ortega, & Wineburg, 2018). Hence, media literacy education in the face of our
digitalizing environment should be more than a technological x but must seek to fortify
audiences’ cultural competencies, social skills, and knowledge bases (Buckingham, 2015).
The media literacy programmes reviewed earlier demonstrate a considerable eort to
apprise young people of these areas. Importantly also, these programmes have experi-
mented with innovative ways by which to highlight key lessons in digital literacy such as
through experiential, learning-by-doing approaches where young people have direct
encounters with what it means to be a media producer and even a purveyor of fake news.
The journey of the founders of XS News oers especially useful learning points.
Principally, when a media literacy eort is of, for, and by young people, the resonance
between the content created and its target audience is that much greater due to the
empathy the creators have for their readers. The personal insights the XS News founders
had about young people led them to more intimately appreciate how news had to be
packaged to best reach and engage their peers. As editor-in-chief Kai Ryn Tan’s instructions
to all writers notes, “write as if you are explaining something to your 11 or 12-year-old
sibling.” This advice helps the writers formulate their posts in ways that strike a chord with
readers and gives XS News a punchy, youthful and authentic voice that is quite distinct from
conventional news. At the same time, the editorial team conducts regular surveys using the
Instagram voting feature to solicit readers’ feedback on topics to cover, and also on their
post format and layout. These exchanges give the readers a sense of shared ownership in
the news channel and fosters sustained interest in following the XS News account.
Media literacy programmes that draw young people in as ambassadors to spread the
mantra and guide their peers will likely have greater impact than something that is more
top down. By producing their own “news channel,” the creators of XS News also acquired
a more in-depth perspective of the nature of news production and the characteristics of
social media platforms, thus sharpening their own critical literacy. This further underlines
the utility of media literacy programmes that incorporate learning- by-doing experiences.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
JOURNAL OF CHILDREN AND MEDIA 5
Notes on contributors
Sun Sun Lim is Head of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at the Singapore University of
Technology and Design. She authored Transcendent Parenting - Raising Children in the Digital Age
(Oxford University Press, 2020) and serves on Singapore’s Media Literacy Council.
Kai Ryn Tan is a high school senior from Singapore currently pursuing the International
Baccalaureate. She is Editor-in-Chief of XS News. She plans to study geography at university.
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6S. S. LIM AND K. R. TAN
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... Although they are conscious of the lack of credibility of social networks, they consume them intensively, assuming they constantly receive fake news that makes them feel manipulated, distrusted, and in danger. Several aspects or actions need to be brought together to provide a response to this situation, as highlighted by Lim and Tan [48], on the one hand, the Spanish government should foster significant, systematic, and comprehensive training programs in media literacy (following good practices from different countries such as Vietnam with their program "Fake =Fact" or the UK's National Literacy Trust), and on the other hand, asking large corporations to collaborate in the fight against fake news. In this regard, we recently found that WhatsApp launched the "How WhatsApp can help you stay connected during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic" program, which includes a step-by-step guide for users [49]. ...
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Current societies are based on huge flows of information and knowledge circulating on the Internet, created not only by traditional means but by all kinds of users becoming producers, which leads to fake news and misinformation. This situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic to an unprecedented extent through social media, with special concern among young people. This study aims to provide significant data about the youngest generation in Spain (Generation Z) regarding their media and information consumption, their social network use, and their relationship with fake news, all in relation to the feeling of reliability/trust. Focusing on a convenience sample of 408 young Spanish students from Generation Z aged 18 to 22, a descriptive exploratory study is presented. Data collection was performed with an adapted questionnaire. Results show that young Spanish people use networks for information, showing a surprising lack of trust in social networks as the media they consume the most. The content they consume the most since the occurrence of COVID-19 is related to politics, entertainment, humor, and music. On the other hand, distrust of politicians, media, and journalists is evident. The conclusion is that media literacy is still more necessary than ever, but with the added challenge of mistrust: maybe it is time to rethink media literacy.
... As the access to and use of digital media have increased, and so too worries about the spreading of fake news and hate speech, calls for media literacy have intensified, not least in relation to children (Carlsson, 2018;Lim & Tan 2020;von Feilitzen et al., 2011). Media literacy centres on the individual's rights to have access to media and communication technologies and to skilfully use and evaluate them (Carlsson, 2018;Hobbs, 2010;Pérez Tornero & Pi, 2011), but also on how contextual factors, such as policies, education, technology, and the media industry shape the possibilities for achieving media literacy (Buckingham, 2020;Livingstone, 2004;Wallis & Buckingham, 2013;Pérez Tornero & Pi, 2011). ...
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This study examines the construction of media literacy in a special issue on source criticism of the Swedish children's comic Bamse – Världens Starkaste Björn [Bamse – The World's Strongest Bear]. This is done with the purpose of understanding what values, perspectives, and practices are promoted when media literacy is communicated via children's edutainment media. Using narrative and discourse analysis, we problematise how notions of truth (such as post-truth) guide much of the discourse on digital media in today's post-political society, and how that and individualisation shape notions of media literacy. This is visible in the analysed case in how source criticism is constructed in relation to notions of truth and falsehood, and as moral lessons aimed at the individual media user. We argue that such an individualised, decontextualised, and depoliticised take on media literacy is problematic and an expression of neoliberalism and a middle-class gaze.
... The rising acceptance of digital technology globally has been complemented by the growing bane of false news (Lim & Tan, 2020). With this, teachers are considered as stewards against misinformation and fake news. ...
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COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global environment. It has affected almost all aspects of society from cultural, economic, educational, to social factors. This narrative inquiry explored science educators' perspectives on the vital roles they would play in the post-COVID setting. Sixteen teachers from different educational institutions were purposively selected to take part in this qualitative investigation. The participants wrote their short narratives on their significant role as science teachers after the COVID-19 pandemic. Six themes emerged as roles of the science teachers in the post-COVID era; these include (1) science communicator; (2) critical thinker; (3) knowledge creator; (4) disruptive innovator; (5) advocate against misinformation; and (6) future-ready educator. A conceptual paradigm is designed to describe the vital roles of science teachers in the post-pandemic era in the context of the VUCAD2 (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, diverse, and disruptive) world. Implications of the findings to science education in the post-pandemic setting are discussed in the paper.
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The existence of the internet has a positive impact and has a negative impact, one of which is the rampant hate speech that is spread through social media. The government then issued Law No. 11 of 2008 concerning Electronic Information and Transactions as amended by Law No. 19 of 2016, which regulates the criminalisation of hate speech conducted via electronic media. Nonetheless, even though there have been criminal threats against acts of hate speech through cyberspace, the number of cases of hate speech handled by the police has increased in years. The research aims to discover social changes' influence in the criminalisation of hate speech through electronic media. Moreover, the research investigates the criminalisation of hate speech's effectiveness through electronic media to tackle the rise of hate speech in cyberspace. This research uses the normative legal research method. The research explains that social changes related to sharing information via electronic media have an impact on applicable law in Indonesia with regulations regarding hate speech through electronic media. However, since the enactment of this regulation, hate speech acts through electronic media has increased. Therefore, the criminalisation policy must pay attention to the principle of subsidiarity. Criminal law must be the last resort in overcoming crimes using a penal instrument. Other efforts needed that should be prioritised apart from punishing the perpetrators of criminal acts.
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This chapter explores some of the implications of digital social media for media education. It seeks to challenge some of the euphoric celebration of the democratic and creative possibilities of these new media and to provide a more considered, critical basis for classroom practice. The chapter begins by considering some of the claims of those who have called for a radical shift in media education practice – so-called Media Studies 2.0. It argues that these claims are overstated and ignore some of the limitations of new media as well as their more problematic aspects. It particularly points to some of the pedagogical problems that are raised by this approach and its rather superficial celebration of participation and creativity. The chapter then moves on to consider some alternative approaches, building on the long tradition of media education in the UK: these approaches are especially premised on the need to combine, and create a dialogue between, critical theory and creative practice.
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In recent years — and especially since the 2016 presidential election — numerous media organizations, newspapers, and policy advocates have made efforts to help Americans become more careful consumers of the information they see online. In K-12 and higher education, the main approach has been to provide students with checklists they can use to assess the credibility of individual websites. However, the checklist approach is outdated. It would be far better to teach young people to follow the lead of professional fact-checkers: When confronted by a new and unfamiliar website, they begin by looking elsewhere on the web, searching for any information that might shed light on who created the site in question and for what purpose.
A conspiracy video teaches kids a lesson about fake news
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Beardsley, E. (2018, May 3). A conspiracy video teaches kids a lesson about fake news. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/05/03/601839776/a-conspiracy-video-teaches-kids -a-lesson-about-fake-news
Brazilian projects for media literacy and combating false news find allies outside journalism
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In Italian schools, reading, writing and recognizing fake news
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Google is trying to teach kids how to spot fake news
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Houser, K. (2019, June 25). Google is trying to teach kids how to spot fake news. Futurism. Retrieved from https://futurism.com/google-teach-kids-spot-fake-news
Gia mao ≠ Su that", cong cu giup phan biet that gia tren khong gian mang
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Nhien, A. (2019, January 21). "Gia mao ≠ Su that", cong cu giup phan biet that gia tren khong gian mang ["Fake ≠ Fact", toolkit that helps differentiating fake from facts on the Internet]. Giao duc Vietnam [Education in Vietnam]. Retrieved from https://giaoduc.net.vn/van-hoa/gia-mao-su-that -cong-cu-giup-phan-biet-that-gia-tren-khong-gian-mang-post194932.gd
In France, school lessons ask: Which twitter post should you trust
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Students in Ukraine learn how to spot fake stories, propaganda and hate speech
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