International Research and Exchanges Board, Inc.

Fake News Disrupted: Youth, Schools, and Multi-Media

Lead Organization

International Research and Exchanges Board, Inc.

Washington, D.C., United States

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Project Summary

The global fake news pandemic is driving people apart, undermining democracy, and eroding individual decision-making and social trust. False and manipulative information spreads rapidly across technology platforms used by most young people who, studies show, struggle to distinguish fact from fiction. People are attracted to sensational information, so a solution must address this behavior and build social norms to support fact-based information. Working across four geographies, we will combine face-to-face information literacy skill-building – through education institutions and trusted community spaces - with multi-media content designed to change behavior at scale. Our solution empowers mainstream and marginalized youth to reject manipulative information, engage responsibly online and in their communities, and influence families and communities to do the same. We will reach enough people to hit a tipping point, transforming social norms so that societies vilify fake news and demand fact-based information, demonstrating an approach that can be adapted and applied anywhere.

Problem Statement

Massive technology platforms profit from distributing sensational and biased information as disinformation purveyors undermine elections, climate policy, and social cohesion. But regular citizens are essential enablers, sharing content and condoning others who do. Youth are enthusiastic producers and consumers of social media content, using it to learn, connect, and organize. However, they often lack skills to distinguish accurate from inaccurate information, fall prey to emotional manipulation, communicate in echo chambers, and are not taught civic discourse. Increasing polarization and hate speech, trolling and silencing of marginalized groups, pervasive distrust of media and institutions, and weakened democracy and discourse has become their norm. Solving this problem requires not only fact-checking efforts and policy solutions, but also that people recognize the problem, discuss it, and change their own behaviors, rejecting dis/misinformation and treating others with empathy. Research shows that people are biased information-seekers, emotionally wired to crave, believe, and share sensational information, and social media platforms are the perfect enabler. Mobile devices deliver continuous information that appeal to youth, who crave belonging and recognition but are susceptible to biases. The information ecosystem is changing fast and policymakers, technology platforms, and education institutions cannot keep up. Youth are not learning crucial skills nor building resilience to dis/misinformation at scale, despite studies indicating such efforts work. Unless youth are equipped to navigate the daily information flood by education systems fully integrating such skills, and exposed to media reinforcing this behavior change, they will not demand and, later, steward, societies grounded in facts and trust.

Solution Overview

Along with algorithms and policy solutions, combating viral fake news requires that people demand a fact-based, inclusive information ecosystem and, crucially, interact responsibly within it. We target youth prone to activism and influencers of family, community, and far-reaching online networks. Equipping enough mainstream and marginalized youth to reject dis/misinformation and develop civic dialogue skills will impede the spread of fake news, stigmatize trolling and hate speech, drive a shift in social norms, and pressure policymakers to support healthy information ecosystems. We will work through face-to-face learning in educational and community institutions and multi-media content shared via broadcast and social media. Both approaches - based on key competencies in information engagement and civic discourse - reinforce each other, building awareness, knowledge, and skills at scale and shifting social norms for youth engagement with information and dialogue. We will prioritize marginalized youth silenced by fake news, empowering them to reject falsehoods about themselves and engage civically. Working in Ukraine, Jordan, Kenya, and Arizona in the US, we will reach over 17M youth directly, including over 1.3M face-to-face. We will see progress when youth use new skills to engage responsibly with information, and impact when youth use those skills to engage in more constructive public discourse, online and offline; make more informed decisions; and demand fact-based information. We will achieve a long-lasting multiplier effect when institutions, media, and education systems incorporate these approaches- promoting healthy social norms around information, increasing resilience to divisive narratives, and revitalizing civic discourse.

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Project Funders

  • United States Department of State, Embassy of Ukraine
  • The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (United Kingdom)
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands

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