Theoretical Introduction – Theory Behind the Scenarios
The chapter includes workshop scenarios that youth workers could use to support young people to develop specific information literacy skills, such as:
- Access information effectively and evaluate critically and competently information;
- Critically analyze information, with special focus on digital content;
- Understand and recognize hate speech, fake news, and understand the relations between freedom of information, freedom of expression, free press, media pluralism and democracy;
- Be aware of ethical and legal issues surrounding the access and use of information, mainly online.
The selected informational literacy skills follow the P21’s Framework for 21st Century Learning (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2002), which include the following competence areas:
- Access and evaluate information
- Access information efficiently (time) and effectively (sources);
- Evaluate information critically and competently.
- Use and manage information
- Use information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand;
- Manage the flow of information from a wide variety of sources;
- Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information.
We also included the perspective of UNESCO in approaching information literacy, by connecting this competence to aspects such as freedom of information, freedom of expression, hate speech, media pluralism, etc.
The following short sections that summarize relevant theory on topics, such as fake news, copyrighting, freedom of information, freedom of expression, hate speech, will help you to conduct the proposed workshop scenarios on information literacy for young people.
Detecting fake news and disinformation
According to European Commission (“Tackling online disinformation”), disinformation, what we refer as fake news, “consists of verifiably false or misleading information created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public. It may have far-reaching consequences, cause public harm, be a threat to democratic political and policy-making processes, and may even put the protection of EU citizens’ health, security and their environment at risk.” The EC acknowledges that the phenomenon has a bigger impact than ever before, as it is easier for anyone to post and share any news or information online. Moreover, EC stresses the role of social media and online platforms in speeding up the spread of such news and in enabling a global reach without much effort from the authors of the fake news.
Even though we talk a lot about fake news and disinformation recently very often, there are not many comprehensive tools and guidelines to help the youth workers and people who work with young people. However, the issue gets more and more attention from important bodies, such as European Commission, as we have seen. Recently, the EC has even adopted a plan for tackling online disinformation. The Action Plan complements the previous EC Communication on „Tackling online disinformation”. This Communication sets self-regulatory tools to tackle the spread and impact of online disinformation in Europe, and to ensure the protection of European values and democratic systems. The EC action is guided by several principles, such as improvement of transparency regarding the way information is produced or sponsored, and credibility of information. We believe that these two principles are key elements in raising awareness about disinformation and fake news, and young people should be taught how to check, analyze and evaluate information in the spirit of these two principles.
You could read more about EC activities against online disinformation and also the details of the action plan at https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/fake-news-disinformation. However, our focus here will be more practical: how can we help young people to detect fake news and disinformation?
First of all, it is important to note that there are two kinds of fake news:
- Stories/contents that aren’t true. These are deliberately invented stories designed to make people believe something false, to convince about a certain ideology, to buy a certain product, or to visit a certain website. These can have religious, political, economic and other purposes.
- There are also stories that have some truth, but aren’t 100% accurate. This kind of fake news are usually biased, and aim to convince readers of a certain political or ideological viewpoint, or to trick them into believing or doing something.
But how do we detect what content falls in one of those groups? Using UNESCO tools and Mindtools, we present here six strategies you could teach young people to take for identifying disinformation and fake news:
- Develop a critical mindset or be suspicious
Young people should learn that one of the main reasons fake news are such a big problem is that they are often believable, but at the same time easy to get caught out. The moment the young people spot inflammatory or shock value elements in the content, they should learn to keep their emotional responses and check the story. They need to get used to approach the news rationally and critically, asking questions such as „Why has this story been created? Is it to persuade me of a certain viewpoint? Is it selling me a particular product? Or is it trying to get me to click through to another website?”
- Check the source
Also, teach young people to check the source of the online content. It is the first time they hear about the source, they should do some digging! They should learn to check the publisher – it is a professional, well-known news agency, magazine, newspaper or is it someone’s personal blog? Also, the URL of the online content could give hints – strange-sounding URLs that end in extensions like „.infonet” and „.offer,” rather than „.com” or „.eu,” or that contain spelling errors, might mean that the source is suspect.
Also, young people could check if the content has a clear reporter or author. Most of the time fake news have no reporter/author, because, logically, no one wants to assume fake information. But even if there is an author, the person can be checked easily. Does he/she really exist? Check for authenticity of the author. Finally, only because the news is shared on social media, it does not mean the source is credible. The young people should learn to do the same checking and critically analyze the information and the source.
Young people should also learn about the credibility of the source. If they get the information from another person, they should learn to consider that person’s reputation and professional experience. Is the person known for his/her expertise on the matter? Or does the person tend to exaggerate the truth?
- See who else is reporting the story
If the news is real then it should be somewhere else where, not only on obscure or suspect website. UNESCO advises to find at least two other reputable sources publishing the same news. Teach the young people that they should check whether the story has been picked up by other well-known news publishers. Stories from BBC, Reuters, Euronews or other relevant local or national media will have been checked and verified beforehand. If the information isn’t from a well-known source like these, there’s a chance that it could be fake.
Make young people aware of the possibility that people who spread fake news and „alternative facts” sometimes create web pages, newspaper mockups, or „doctored” images that look official, but aren’t. They need to make sure they are really on the BBC web page and not on a false webpage that copied BBC look – check the URL.
In social media channels, it becomes more complicated… with official and unofficial or fake accounts and pages. But with a critical mind, the young people could see that it is a suspicious post, and they could build the habit to search for the official account of the well-known media publisher and see if the news is definitely there. Also, they need to learn not to share things before checking the sources and the information.
- Examine the evidence
Teach young people that fake news do not have plenty of facts, but mostly inflammatory content, opinions, or information that cannot be attributed or proved. A credible news story will include plenty of facts – quotes from experts, survey data and official statistics…. yes, things that can be checked easily by anyone. If these are missing, if there are only general statements or the sources are an unknown or fake experts, the news should be questioned.
- Look for fake images and videos
Images and videos can be manipulated. Modern editing software has made it easy for people to create fake images and videos that look professional and real. In fact, research shows that only half of us can tell when images are fake.
However, there are some warning signs that young people should learn to look out for, such as strange shadows on the image, or jagged edges around a figure. You could also show young people how to use Google Reverse Image Search to check whether the image has been altered or it is from another context.
- Check that it „sounds right”
Finally, common sense should be put into practice. The first rule young people could apply is: if a story sounds unbelievable, it probably is. They need to bear in mind that fake news is designed to „feed” our biases or fears. Young people should learn they need to ignore their biases and be conscious of their limits – just because a story sounds „right” and true to someone, it doesn’t mean that it is.
Here are some online tools you could teach young people about, to help them to verify the contents they find online:
- AI powered fake news detector
The website analyzes websites links to see if they are similar to known fake news sites, using a neural network: http://www.fakenewsai.com/
- Google Chrome Extension for source check – NewsCracker
When reading a news story on a news organization’s website, just click the NewsCracker icon to receive the accuracy and spin ratings for the article (on a scale from 0-10). https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/newscracker/lmpfanpnpoaegbafkodbifallmfcncpb
Basics on freedom of accessing information, freedom of expression, hate speech
One of the workshops we propose in this chapter takes the perspective used by UNESCO in approaching information literacy and connecting this competence with aspects such as freedom of information, freedom of expression, media pluralism and free press, civic participation and hate speech. Here, we introduce the basic information on freedom of expression and hate speech, and how these support democratic societies. This basic knowledge you will need to conduct the workshop that supports young people to understand the importance of such rights in democratic communities and societies, while developing their information literacy skills.
Hate Speech v. Freedom of Expression
We regard young people not only as media consumers, but also as media creators. Every young person is a creator of information and he/she has messages to send out, through various platforms, most common, through social media channels. Also, we consider that empowering them to access new information and knowledge and to express themselves are key prerequisites of a functioning democratic society. But in order to really participate, young people need to know their rights in terms of information and expression. But what exactly constitutes freedom of expression and freedom to information?
Both the international regulations, such as the ones coming from The United Nations Human Rights Council, and local laws, in democratic countries, guarantee our right to freedom of expression, which means that the government does not have the right to forbid us from saying what we like and writing what we like or believe in. This is one of the founding principles of the democratic states – the right to freedom of speech, but also the freedom of access to information (freedom of information). Freedom of speech grants all citizens, disregarding their background and preferences, the liberty to criticize the government and express their minds without fear of being censored or persecuted. This right is applicable both to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, and to those that offend, shock or disturb the government or any groups in the population.
Freedom of information is defined as the right to seek, receive and share information. And this is very well connected to the freedom of expression – if people do not have access to information, then it is hard to think they will have a valuable contribution to a democratic society, to share valuable and diverse opinions. Freedom of information makes the government to facilitate citizen’s access to information that is held by public officials, the decision makers or private bodies which activities affect the public interest. Freedom of information enables good governance accountability in government, because people can check what government does, and they can also make better informed decisions while voting for their representatives or for important public decisions.
Even though the concept of freedom of expression seems quite simple, in reality, there are complex lines that can be drawn around what kinds of speech are protected and in what setting – lines that young people should be aware of. And Internet times make these lines even more complicated. The Internet is a fantastic tool for freedom of expression, providing a chance to share ideas, opinions in richer form than ever before. Meanwhile, “speech” gained a broader definition: the expression of opinions, ideas or emotions, not only verbally but also through other forms like images, video or sound. However, this is not a problem-free area. Sometimes young people can come across things online that they may find offensive or content that might ‘cross the line’ for them.
But how do we draw the line between the offensive/out of line and the right granted by freedom of speech principle? First of all, it is very important for young people to know that freedom of expression does not equate to the right to offend. While freedom of expression is everyone’s right, it comes with certain restrictions – hatred, which constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, is prohibited by law (Gagliardone, Gal, Alves, & Martinez, 2015).
At this point, hate speech is a key concept that can contest the limits of free speech or expression. Hate speech can be described as a specific type of expression, which might undermine safety, health, morals or reputation, and sometimes might even turn into a violent act undermining the human rights of others (Keen & Georgescu, 2016).
In accordance with international human rights law, hate speech in many forms cannot be restricted – this is the subgroup of “mild” hate and intolerance. Yet, in its more extreme forms, when hate is likely to provoke individual or societal harm, hate speech becomes illegal. Because indeed, “there needs to be a balance between allowing people to express their inner thoughts, and ensuring that this does not undermine the rights of others, or cause greater damage to society” (Keen & Georgescu, 2016, p. 162). Hate speech can be against race, ethnicity, skin colour, language, nationality, religious beliefs or lack thereof, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, political beliefs, social status, age, mental health, disability, disease, being Roma or refugees.
In conclusion, you could help young people to learn what is hate speech by using this one important criteria: to look to the content’s impact on the targeted group, to the speech’s potential to lead to unreasonable violence, verbal or sometimes physical, against other groups defined by their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender or other characteristics.
If you are interested in reading more about how to combat the hate speech online, we recommend this book: E. Keen & M. Georgescu, Bookmarks: A manual for combating hate speech online through human rights education, revised edition from 2016, available at https://rm.coe.int/168065dac7.
About the rights and limits in using and sharing other’s original work
As a youth worker, you might already know that young people are largely confused about whether it is lawful to use content they find on the Internet, upload, download, and remix these contents… or some of them do not even think about the legal and ethical aspects surrounding the information they use and share. Even if many of them learn how to operate peer-to-peer sharing apps, they rarely learn about the ethical and legal dimensions of the sharing and using content created by other people.
Most of the time, young people are not aware of the illegality of their actions, when accessing and using content to which someone else holds the copyright.
For this we need to support young people to become more familiar with copyright concept and philosophy. To be clear from the beginning, copyright covers neither ideas nor words and short phrases. Copyright today protects works, including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations of other people.
Copyright regime helps to establish a balance between the private, most often commercial interests of creators and the public benefit of using and reusing the cultural materials – the works created. As a general rule, young people should learn that the creator of any original content has all rights and it is illegal, and also unethical, to share copyrighted materials without permission, as long as it is not stated the other way. Breaking this rule leads to serious monetary fines in different countries.
But copyright issue is more complex than this very basic principle, because there is a thin line between recognition of the rights of the content creator and the public interests. For this we have a term called „fair use”. Fair use is not an infringement of copyright. It allows under certain conditions a person to use copyright protected material without permission. Fair use enables the public to learn, criticize, parody, and otherwise reuse copyrighted materials that are part of our shared public information heritage. For instance, young people could learn that they are in the fair use of copyrighted work while studying and use materials from the library – fair use allows them to clip, quote, scan, share, and make many other common uses of protected works, with educational purpose. However, fair use depends on a reasoned and balanced application of four factors: the purpose of the use; the nature of the work used; the amount of the work used; and the effect of the use on the market for the original piece of work. You may find a more in-depth discussion of fair use at https://copyright.columbia.edu/basics/fair-use.html.
This liberty to reuse copyrighted works, for public interest, such as education, without express permission from the creator, is justified under copyright laws in many countries. But still it is always safer to make sure young people are familiar with the idea of copyright and learn to involve with contents that are free to use, such as public domain materials or creative commons license works.
The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.
However, there is an important wrinkle that young people need to understand about public domain: while each work belongs to the public, collections of public domain works may be protected by copyright. If one person uses his/her creativity to put together public domain works/materials, in a special website, or a book, or music collection, etc., then that final material can be copyrighted by the creator.
How do works end up in the public domain? There are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:
- the copyright has expired – there is always a time limit on copyright, and this depends on the each country law on copyright;
- the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules;
- the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,” or
- copyright law does not protect this type of work.
Creative Commons license
There is also another term that young people should learn about – Creative Commons (CC) license. CC license enables the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work. In other words, the creator/the author has copyrighted the work – he/she owns it – but he/she wants to give other people the freedom to share, use or further develop the work the author created. CC license limits can be decided by the author. For instance, the author can decide to allow only the non-commercial uses of a given work. Young people should know that under CC license can use the work without asking for permission from the creator, but they need to respect his/her requests regarding how the work can be used, for what purpose and how credits should be mentioned.
Searching for open/public/free content is an important function young people should be educated about. For instance, they can use Google to search for Creative Commons or public domain content, look for photos at Flickr or Pixabay or music albums at Jamendo. The Wikimedia Commons, the multimedia repository of Wikipedia, is also a good starting point for searching free original works. Additionally, Vimeo lets you to filter the vimeo video contents according to their licence types.
Check the following link, If you want to learn more about Creative Commons licenses, read about the philosophy and the rules of these, directly from those who came up with the idea – the global nonprofit Creative Commons that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/.
Also, if you are interested to read more about the attitude of young people regarding copyrights, we recommend you this scientific article: John Palfrey, Urs Gasser, Miriam Simun & Rosalie Fay Barnes, Youth, Creativity, and Copyright in the Digital Age, Int’l J. Learning & Media, Spring 2009, at 79, available at https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/3128762/palfrey%20-%20youth,%20creativity,%20and%20copyright%20in%20the%20digital%20age.pdf?sequence=2.