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The importance of media literacy and fact-checking skills in Eastern Neighbourhood countries

Have you ever come across news on social media with a sensationalist, attention-grabbing headline, a suspicious link, a controversial claim and wondered whether it was fake?

The chances are you probably have.

The immediate availability of the internet has revolutionised the way we access and consume information.  In the digital age, access to information is easier than ever before. However, this also means that the spread of false information, or disinformation and misinformation, is also more prevalent. With the vast amount of information available online, it can be challenging to distinguish between facts and fiction. Some fake news can be “harmless” – with the aim of accumulating views on social media, and commonly known as clickbait. However, carefully crafted disinformation campaigns can also be driven by a plethora of motives, including political agendas, economic gain, or social manipulation. These campaigns can use a variety of tactics, such as spreading false rumours, creating fake news, manipulating images or videos, and employing bots and trolls to amplify the disingenuous message. Disinformation campaigns can spread quickly, reach a vast audience, and create confusion, fear, or anger. They pose a significant threat to a country’s democratic institutions (Tompkins, 2020). This is especially true for the Eastern Neighbourhood countries, like Georgia, where fake news and propaganda threaten the country’s European future. Both the government and civil society must take action to combat fake news.

Media literacy refers to the ability to access, analyse, evaluate, and create media in various forms. Some of the most effective solutions to the problem of fake news lie in the development of media literacy and fact-checking skills. Such literacy and skills can help ordinary people to identify and combat disinformation, and to navigate the complex world of media and information effectively. Fact-checking, on the other hand, is the process of verifying the accuracy of information presented as facts (Vinney, 2022).

To ensure that young people are equipped with these skills, it is crucial to introduce instruction in this field from an early age. Incorporating media literacy in formal education ensures that young people develop critical thinking skills. In Georgia, young people who lack awareness are vulnerable to disinformation campaigns. As they rely on social media platforms for information, they are particularly susceptible to the influence of these campaigns. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the use of social media for the spread of disinformation campaigns, which can be easily manipulated. This trend has allowed political actors and organisations to benefit from algorithms, bots, and disinformation campaigns. Unfortunately, Georgian school curriculums are not yet fully equipped for these challenges. Prioritising the education of the next generation in media literacy, particularly in relation to social media, is crucial to ensuring an informed and democratic society (Staudt, 2020).

Aside from formal education, non-governmental organisations also play a huge role in enabling young people and other vulnerable groups with media literacy skills. In Georgian civil society, several NGOs are working in this field, the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP), the Media Development Foundation (MDF), and Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS), to name a few. These NGOs offer training programmes for school and university students, teachers, and civil servants on media literacy, fake news, and fact-checking, providing practical skills that individuals can apply in their daily lives. Through such training, individuals can learn how to identify and combat disinformation, contributing to the development of an informed and knowledgeable society (TI-Georgia, 2019).

To combat disinformation campaigns more effectively, Eastern Neighbourhood countries like Georgia can also implement best practices from EU countries: according to the Media Literacy Index 2021 by the Open Society Institute-Sofia, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Sweden, and Ireland emerge as the top-ranked countries in Europe. These countries have comprehensive media education curriculums that cover media production, critical thinking, and ethical considerations. By adopting such practices, Eastern Neighbourhood countries can develop a more media-literate and fact-checking society, contributing to the fight against disinformation (Education Estonia, 2021).

In conclusion, disinformation campaigns pose a significant threat to the European future of Eastern Neighbourhood countries like Georgia. The spread of false information can undermine trust in institutions, erode democratic values, and cause harm to individuals and communities. To combat disinformation, it is essential to develop media literacy and fact-checking skills. By incorporating these skills into formal education and offering a variety of training programmes, individuals can learn how to identify and combat disinformation effectively. Moreover, collaboration of the government, civil society, and the media, means stakeholders can develop effective strategies to combat disinformation and promote media literacy and fact-checking skills. The European Year of Skills 2023 is a perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of media literacy and fact-checking skills in Eastern Neighbourhood countries – to showcase best practices and promote cooperation between countries, organisations, and individuals in the development of anti-propaganda tools.

List of References

  1. Tompkins, A. (2020). Media and Information Literacy programs provide fact-checking skills. Deutsche Welle. Link
  2. Education Estonia (2021). Finland, Denmark and Estonia top the Media Literacy Index 2021. Ministry of Education and Research – Estonia. Link
  3. Staudt, K. (2020). How the situation of Georgian schools furthers the distribution of disinformation. MythDetector. Link
  4. Vinney, C. (2022). What Is Media Literacy? Verywell Mind. Link
  5. Ti-Georgia (2019). Fighting Disinformation in Georgia. Transparency International – Georgia. Link