As UN Secretary-General António Guterres put it, the democratic process provides the tools to adequately address the pandemic: "as the world confronts COVID-19, democracy is crucial in ensuring the free flow of information, participation in decision-making and accountability for the response to the pandemic". However, the ongoing crisis also poses unprecedented threats to the democratic fabric of societies around the world.
Among the main issues highlighted in his policy brief "COVID-19 and Human Rights – We are all in this together", the UN Secretary-General mentioned threats to the free flow of information, crackdowns on freedom of expression and press freedom, arrests of political opponents for allegedly spreading "fake news", aggressive cyber-policing and increased online surveillance, and postponement of elections in some countries. It is therefore essential that governments, in their response to the pandemic, continue to uphold the rule of law, to protect and respect international standards and the basic principles of legality, as well as the right to access justice, remedies and due process.
The UN also highlighted the serious threat (whether purposeful or unintentional) to freedom of expression which measures to counter misinformation and disinformation have posed since the outset of the pandemic. For this reason, the UN highlights the importance of developing media literacy and online safety skills among society, as well as fighting misinformation, disinformation and hate speech.
If you would like to explore this issue further, the June 2020 edition of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) bulletin looks at freedom of expression online in the age of disinformation, featuring perspectives from a wide array of stakeholders, from journalists to researchers, tech company representatives, decision makers, and so on. In this BIK bulletin, we re-affirmed that the most efficient way of overcoming the dilemma between "the two contradictory objectives that are the fight against disinformation and the preservation of freedom of expression would be to focus more efforts and resources on educating children and young people to media literacy, digital citizenship and critical thinking". Below are just a handful of pedagogical resources on the topic, designed by the Insafe network of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs):
- The German SIC has recently published an info-sheet on "dealing with fake news and conspiracy theories" and "recognising conspiracy theories" (both in German and in English) in the context of the COVID-19 "infodemic".
- The Slovenian SIC has launched "a quiz to recognise lies on the internet" (in Slovenian) in which young people have to assess the reliability of five pieces of news on COVID-19.
- The Bulgarian SIC produced a short animated video on "fake news" (in Bulgarian) for children and young people aged 7-17.
- The Irish SIC also produced a video on the topic, called "Explained: What is False Information?" (in English) for young people aged 13-18. This video is part of the "Connected – An Introduction to Digital Media Literacy" set of resources.
These pedagogical resources and others, gathered in the BIK resource gallery, can be used by teachers and educators, but also by wider education professionals, as well as parents and carers.
Another way for SICs around Europe to facilitate media literacy and online safety education is to participate in policy processes in the field. In Finland, the update of the national media education policy was coordinated by the Finnish SIC, in collaboration with over 100 different shareholders. You can read the resulting policy document, "Media literacy in Finland" (in English).