In March 2018, the European Commission High Level Group on fake news and online disinformation (“the HLEG”) published their report on policy initiatives to counter fake news and disinformation spread online.
In the first place, the HLEG proposes to abandon of the term “fake news,” because it is inadequate in explaining the complexity of the situation, and leads to confusion in the way researchers discuss the issue, it is reported on in the media, and discussed by policy-makers.
According to the HLEG definition, “disinformation includes all forms of false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit” but “it does not cover issues arising from the creation and dissemination online of illegal content (notably defamation, hate speech, incitement to violence), which are subject to regulatory remedies under EU or national laws, nor other forms of deliberate but not misleading distortions of facts such a satire and parody.”
The increased amplification of disinformation is linked with the development of digital media. There are several actors which are producing and circulating manipulative disinformation for different types of purposes.
The HLEG acknowledges that, disinformation can be harmful for citizens and society at large: “The risk of harm includes threats to democratic political processes, including integrity of elections, and to democratic values that shape public policies in a variety of sectors, such as health, science, finance and more.”
The HLEG recommendations aim to provide short term responses to the most important problems and longer-term responses to increase societal resilience to disinformation. These responses rest on five pillars designed to:
- “enhance transparency of online news, involving an adequate and privacy-compliant sharing of data about the systems that enable their circulation online;
- promote media and information literacy to counter disinformation and help users navigate the digital media environment;
- develop tools for empowering users and journalists to tackle disinformation and foster a positive engagement with fast-evolving information technologies;
- safeguard the diversity and sustainability of the European news media ecosystem, and
- promote continued research on the impact of disinformation in Europe to evaluate the measures taken by different actors and constantly adjust the necessary responses.”
As an educator, I am very pleased to notice that the HLEG is promoting media and information literacy (MIL) as an essential competence for developing critical thinking and good personal practices for discourse in online and offline world. According to the HLEF report “The media and information literacy is a preventive, rather than a reactive solution, engendering critical thinking skills that are crucial for the 21st century citizen living in an increasingly digital environment.”
The HLEG stresses that media literacy is an important action line as a response to disinformation because it can empower individual users as suggested above and mass empowerment of users will lead to greater social resilience against disinformation and perhaps other disorders of the information age.
The HLEG recommends that European institutions and national governments should
- recognize media and information literacy as core literacy by integrating critical media literacy into the core literacies guaranteed to all schoolchildren in Europe, with formal status in national school curricula.
- mandate teacher training colleges to include critical media literacy modules and encourage critical media literacy to become an integral part of all subject-learning, lifelong learning for teachers. EU could support such teacher training through Erasmus+, Training and Education 2020 and similar schemes.
It recommends further that professional media and fact-checkers commit to playing an active role in media literacy education, adding their field experience and technological expertise to tested and verified media literacy approaches.
The new Finnish core curriculum is already updated to meet the recommendations of the HLEG. All the Finnish schools should provide their pupils basic competences to use information independently and in interaction with others for problem-solving, argumentation, reasoning, drawing of conclusions and invention and they should have opportunities to analyse the topic being discussed critically from different viewpoints. The students should be able to know where and how to search information and they should be able to evaluate the usability and reliability of sources. The schools should also support the students’ growth into active, responsible, and enterprising citizens.
There is nevertheless a gap between the theory and practice. According to my experience, teachers need updated set of tools and methods to deal with the increase of the quantity of information and diversification of the variety of sources. In addition, the media landscape is re-shaping constantly and it has become more and more difficult to distinguish information from dis-information and authenticity of the photos and videos.
Schools and teachers need updated set of tools and methods in order to be able to meet the MIL curricula goals and to provide support and encouragement for their pupils which are confronting and dealing with unclear and conflicting information.
In the French-Finnish school of Helsinki (click here to visit our media education site), we have piloted various methods with great success togehter with the experts of FaktabaariEDU , but we still need to work a lot to update our tools and upskill our teachers even further. Therefore we have launched a rather ambitious European level ERASMUS+ application in order to join the forces with MIL experts around the Europe.