Unsurprisingly, 96% of Europe’s young people, those aged 16 to 24, use the internet daily. As shown by the Digital News Report, the younger demographic is relying more on social platforms for their news than news websites. Such online spaces are a battleground of many false and misleading information with around 47% of EU citizens coming across untrue and doubtful information on social media and online news sites.
Joyce Vissenberg, a researcher from KU Leuven says, “It is, indeed, on social media platforms that misinformation and disinformation are shared the most, so it is logical to have concerns about children and young people’s exposure to mis- and disinformation.”
“Having digital skills is becoming increasingly important in today’s digital society, especially for digital inclusion,” Vissenberg adds. “Lacking digital skills can lead to reduced opportunities for participation.”
On the occasion of Global Media and Information Literacy Week 2023 hosted by UNESCO, The Fix looks into ways media literacy can be improved among Europe’s young people. As Vissenberg describes, “While media literacy cannot prevent young people from being exposed to false information online, it is very valuable in safeguarding them from believing and being deceived by false information.”
Trusting social media for news
Young people tend to rely on social media for news, and this group is also likely to prefer alternative media with its broader and more tonal latitude topics.
Despite the consumption of news via online platforms, the youth are still less likely to believe in them. Vissenberg explains, “Research has for instance revealed the presence of a certain ‘trust paradox’: while social media are the most popular way of keeping up to date with news, children and young people on average report that they trust social media the least when it comes to reliable news content, compared to other news sources and channels such as television news, radio news, or online newspapers.”
As part of the ySKILLS (Youth Skills) project, Vissenberg and other researchers looked into the level of digital skills present in six schools, in Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Poland and Portugal. Their research found that children “feel less confident regarding their skills to find and evaluate information.”
Another project titled “Enhancing Young People’s Media Literacy for Civic Engagement” explored how young adults (aged 18-29) in Finland, Norway, and Romania use media to enhance their civic engagement. Their results highlighted similar trends.
Sharon Laine, a researcher on this project says, “The media literacy level of young adults in Finland, Norway, and Romania is generally high, indicating that they are proficient in tasks such as identifying, finding, using, and managing information in a digital environment. However, they feel less confident when it comes to creating content responsibly.”
Ways to increase media literacy
Media literacy skills in Europe’s youth are good. Yet there is a gap when it comes to creating online content. To help improve these skills, The Fix has compiled a list of games that can assist children in learning media literacy in a fun and engaging way.
Bad News Game allows the user to understand the techniques behind disinformation. The player takes the role of a fake news producer and produces tweets that involve several disinformation tactics like impersonation, conspiracy, polarisation, and more. Created by the Dutch media collective DROG and the University of Cambridge, it uses inoculation theory which makes the player resistant to disinformation tactics.
Similar to the Bad News Game, Go Viral! also uses the inoculation theory to make people resistant to Covid-19-related disinformation. Here too the player takes on the role of a promoter of fake medical news related to the pandemic.
In this game, the player works in the misinformation and propaganda unit for a totalitarian regime. Every choice the player makes should strive towards making the leader happy and shift the opinion of the masses.
Created by Google, Play Interland works to make children confident internet surfers. It teaches them how to not fall for fake news, share news responsibly, maintain their safety in digital spaces and more.
Fakey resembles a social media news feed where players get to either “Share” “Like” or “Fact-check” a piece of recent news. This game allows the player to spot and check disinformation. The better the player gets at detecting disinformation, the better their “skill” in the game will be.