The fight against fake news: media literacy as a useful tool

  • Awareness
  • 29/06/2017
  • Ľuboš Perniš, Youth Ambassador

The June 2017 edition of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) bulletin focuses on the highly topical issue of fake news. As always in the work we do in creating a safer and better internet, gaining the perspectives of young people is essential. Here, Ľuboš, a youth ambassador from Slovakia, shares his thoughts.

"For many young people, social media has become the most important news aggregate they actively use in their everyday lives. Facebook has not only substituted media outlets for some, but has also reached audiences which did not read any news before. However, there are no editors on social media and no one is fact-checking, and this has helped fake news to spread and flourish. This article will first discuss why fake news is dangerous and then argue that media literacy can be a useful – even if not complete – tool in the fight against the phenomenon.

"Fake news is far from being harmless. Whether it tries to persuade people that a vaccination, which has rapidly improved public health all over the world, is responsible for autism, or convey a message that the world is led by evil consortiums, fake news undermines citizen's beliefs in civil society. If online users start to believe what is reported in the countless fake news articles, it can lead to a general societal distrust. Why should one contribute to his own community and try to make the park look nicer, when everything is controlled by a rigged system anyway? People may then lose motivation to participate and vote for parties which advocate for oversimplified solutions based on nonreality. This is a real problem, because the current challenges of the interconnected world require professionalism and an evidence-based approach. By oversimplifying the solutions or simply introducing blunt lies, there is a threat that we will just not be able to address issues such as climate change or public health adequately.

"Some argue that the root of the problem for the rising popularity of fake news is to be found in wider societal trends and increasing distrust in the public realm. They further argue that since this is true, the fight against fake news on social media or in schools is irrelevant and we need to tackle the issue with general distrust. Even if the root of the problem was identified correctly, the conclusion drawn from it does not follow. It does not follow that we should not focus on the way young people work with information and distinguish between truths and lies. On the contrary, we need to focus on social media and schools. One of the tools which can be used and seems promising is media literacy education. Media literacy education may have significant influence on combatting fake news as it teaches young people to assess information critically. Media literacy classes do not convey conventional "hard facts" knowledge to students; rather they convey a certain skillset on how to assess information online and this is exactly what is needed.

"Improved media literacy among young people may not make fake news disappear and, indeed, there might be broader underlying reasons for why young people turn to alternative facts. However, this does not mean that putting more value on critical thinking will not significantly weaken the position of fake news and decrease its persuasive power."

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, European Schoolnet, the European Commission or any related organisations or parties.

About the author:

Ľuboš, Slovakian youth ambassadorĽuboš (18) is from Slovakia and graduated from a high school in Austria. He is pursuing his desire to acquire an in-depth understanding of our society by studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at UCL. He is also passionate about travelling, languages and skiing.

Ľuboš has been a youth ambassador for five years, and is particularly interested in positive content and online participation.


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