'Media literacy is the vaccine for fake news infodemic'

·4-min read
'Media literacy is the vaccine for fake news infodemic'
'Media literacy is the vaccine for fake news infodemic'

A group of students at SJKC New Kopisan in Gopeng, Perak, were asked by their teacher to role play as news reporters.

One by one, they would be asked to present a news article to the class, as English teacher Shee Yuen Ling watched on.

The exercise may seem like just another test on the students’ speaking and listening skills, but it is also part of an elaborated campaign by educators nationwide to bring media literacy into classrooms.

“I have all sorts of fun activities for my students,” Shee told Malaysiakini of her ways to incorporate media literacy into lessons.

She would ask true or false questions after students are given a news article to read, create a writing exercise, or even use the digital opportunity provided as students learn from home during the pandemic.

“I would teach them to do a reverse image search, to find the source of an image that arrived at a news article,” she said.

Shee is one of 15 specially selected educators working with media professionals to co-establish Media Education Academy (MEA), a media literacy programme aimed at enlisting educators to combat misinformation.

The programme is part of the Media Education For All (ME4A), a movement created by social enterprise Arus Academy and media startup The Fourth.

“Our goal is to provide the bridge between educators and journalists to work together, creating a programme that can help upskill teachers in teaching media literacy,” Arus Academy co-founder Alina Amir told Malaysiakini.

Educators who sign up for the MEA will go through six modules to learn about verifying information authenticity, critical thinking and filtering bias, among other media literacy skills.

Alina said many people have the misconception that the movement was created in response to the spread of misinformation during Covid-19.

“The truth is, we have seen misinformation being spread even before the pandemic.

“It’s important that media literacy is given a bigger focus in Malaysia because there isn’t much being talked about,” she added.

The MEA will try to help educators in particular to identify their own biases and thoughts about the information they receive, Alina explained, and in turn, pass the knowledge to the younger generation.

Teaching students to verify news

About a one hour drive away from Gopeng is Tanjong Malim, where Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) is situated.

Students here are much older than Shee’s, and lecturer Fizaril Amzari Omar would give them a slightly harder task to do.

“I would first explain the terms of media literacy, and then I would start a case study activity.

"Students would find an online news article or an Internet post and list down the key information they read in an Excel sheet.

“They would then act as detectives to investigate whether the news they found was true or false, and they will present it to the class and we will discuss it,” Fizaril said.

He said he realised that before the activities, many of his students would not even read the news and information they received.

“They would just share them without reading properly,” he lamented.

Since conducting these exercises, the lecturer said his students had become more alert to read and try to verify the news and information before sharing it with others.

“In my personal opinion, Internet users in Malaysia lack competitiveness, and they lack the important knowledge to face the rapid technological development.

“We really need media literacy because, with this knowledge, Internet users in Malaysia will be able to act wisely to share accurate and true information,” Fizaril added.

Media literacy in the age of social media

Malaysia Information Literacy Education (Mile) co-founder Darshini Kandasamy also highlighted the importance of media literacy, especially now with the widespread usage of social media.

“We’re just deluged with this onslaught of information and content all the time.

“We need to be able to have this, almost to the point of habit, for us to be able to check information or to think before we share,” she said.

Leveraging her experience as a journalist and an advocate for media literacy education, Darshini was one of the 11 media mentors who worked with Shee, Fizaril and others to create MEA.

“My role is to help guide the educators in coming up with the syllabus.

“Throughout the initial process, we would discuss with them, go through the syllabus and lesson plans and help them to frame it into context,” she added.

The academy was launched early this month and has 1,440 educators enrolling from various levels and streams of educational institutions.

M4EA, the movement behind the academy, was named Best Project in News Literacy in the Asian Digital Media Awards 2021 recently.

The academy now aims to train 3,000 educators by January next year.

“The ultimate goal is to recruit teachers who are committed to media education skills to organise themselves moving forward, without the need of organisations like ours to play the middle man. That’s the main goal of the MEA,” Alina added.

As a teacher, Shee viewed educators as frontliners to combat fake news.

“Media literacy to me acts as a vaccine to the infodemic.

“We always say that there is so much information around, and there is so much fake news.

"So this is the vaccine,” Shee said.

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