Wednesday, August 29, 2018
In the battle against disinformation, fake news, indoctrination and hate practices on social media and the internet, Free Press Unlimited started the unique project ‘Keeping it Real’, for 13-year-olds in Mexico, Sweden and South Africa. The project examines the media behaviour of 13 year-olds and based on that, works with them to develop ideas that enable young people to use social media safely and with reliable information.

Secretary-General Marie Dahllöf of the Swedish Postcode Foundation, that supports the project, says: 'Social media is the most important source of information for many young people. They have trouble distinguishing reliable information from fake news. In development and transition countries in particular, little attention is given to media literacy. We are happy to support Free Press Unlimited in the research into the media use of young people. We hope that this research will produce a useful toolkit to help young people to identify false information and use real information.'

Age thirteen

The primary target group ofthe project are thirteen year olds, because this is the official age limit for registering with a social media platform. Moreover it is the average age that youth goes to high school in Europe, Mexico and South Africa. Being the age in between child and adolescent, youth are (becoming) more vulnerable to what is entering into their world through the internet and social media.

Identifying fake news

Young people in the age group of the "Keeping it Real" project get almost all their information from social media and the internet and as a group are also their own news source. The project experts, together with the Free Press Unlimited partners and the young people in the three countries, investigate how they use their social media and distinguish reliable information from fake news through observation and interviews. Additionally, academic literature is also consulted.

Three different countries and cultures

Mexico and South Africa, countries in transition, have seen an exponential increase in the use of social media by a large young people - even among those who do not themselves own smartphones. They are countries with a nationwide news for kids broadcast and online communities. Our local partners are already connected with children, parents, schools and media professionals on a daily basis, already engaged to work with us and easy to mobilise for our research needs. With our partners, teachers, media professionals and parents will be involved in the project. Most of the research done so far on this topic has focused on Western countries. Therefore one western country is included to be able to make comparisons and recognize similarities. Sweden is in the forefront concerning research on youth media literacy.

Making young people digitally resilient

Jan-Willem Bult, youth and media expert at Free Press Unlimited: 'If we can make a new generation resilient and critical in relation to fake news from the outset, then we can win the battle against it. Young people are themselves good media producers and distributors, but are in need of ethical rules. On the other hand, it is important for journalists to see how young people communicate and share their news. That is why research and the elaboration of their ideas is so important. We are delighted that the Swedish Postcode Lottery recognizes this.'

The toolkit

Final result of this project is a toolkit, consisting of elaborated ideas also provided by the kids themselves. For example, it might produce solutions for a problem such as ‘peer pressure’, where youth are very sensitive to the actions and opinions of their agemates and are afraid to deviate. The toolkit provides building blocks for concrete products to tackle fake news and distinguish it from reliable information. The research project, with a budget of E200,000 commences September 1st. and will last eighteen months.

Photo: Worldbank