Teaching teenagers how to critically engage with online information is now more important than ever. With research and hackathons, Free Press Unlimited aims to strengthen the ability of young people worldwide to evaluate the overload of information they encounter online.

Around the world, internet use is growing at a rapid pace. A big chunk of new internet users are teenagers. They consume media at a much younger age and more intensively than any other generation before them. What today’s youth read online shapes their world view and impacts their decisions. In order to become critical citizens, it’s crucial they learn how to make a distinction between useful information, biased reporting and deliberate disinformation.

Free Press Unlimited launched Keeping It Real to help young people all over the world strengthen these skills. The project starts with a study into how 13-year-olds in South Africa, Mexico and Sweden assess information they encounter on social media. Free Press Unlimited will then organise hackathons where developers and experts work with the teenagers themselves to come up with innovative ideas for media literacy tools.

Bespoke media literacy tools

Most of what we know about the way teenagers make online decisions is based on research conducted in Europe and the United States. This knowledge has been translated into media literacy programmes such as apps, games and curricula that teach young people how to filter the information available to them. With Keeping It Real, Free Press Unlimited aims to learn more about online habits of teenagers in other parts of the world. This way, media literacy tools can be tailored to their needs as well.

“We expect to find that young people who live in countries where information is more difficult to come by, or where it is dangerous to say certain things, judge information on social media very differently,” said project leader Evaline Schot. “That would mean you can’t just export a media literacy tool from Sweden to a country like Mexico, where freedom of expression is more restricted.”

Photo: Paul Enkelaar