Media literacy

Making laws, without promoting media education, by Peter Cunliffe-Jones

When … laws or regulations are used to prevent the keep on going spreading harmful disinformation, as was the case against financial hoaxes in Uganda and disinformation dangerous to public health in South Africa, it is plausible that they could directly reduce the damage. However, punitive laws do little to deter and nothing to correct false information and thus limit the damage …

“In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like ours, ‘fake news’ is a ticking time bomb,” journalists warned during a briefing in 2018. “In recent weeks, many anarchists have done their utmost to detonate the bomb. “ To disarm the bomb, his government would educate Nigerians to identify fake news at the source. “We do not intend to use coercion or censorship,” the minister promised. Instead, he proposed ways for the public to identify fake news: “These simple steps may not end ‘fake news’, but they will go a long way in stemming its spread. “

Weeks later, Senegalese President Macky Sall went further, publicly calling on his education minister to come up with a plan to promote media literacy in schools. That would do “Countering” fake news “and other false information, because the Internet is becoming sabotaged by bad practices”, said the president.

Since concern grew around the world in 2016 over the effects of disinformation – of provoking vigilante violence in Ethiopia the use of ineffective medical treatments for Ebola and COVID-19[female[feminine – calls for the teaching of new knowledge and skills in schools as an antidote to lies have increased.

Last year seven colleagues and I examined what has since been done in policy responses across Africa. In two related research reports published this month, we found that the governments of 12 countries studied had in fact resorted to punitive laws, censoring public debate and, in six of the seven countries studied, had done little to promote disinformation in public schools.

Almost Doubling of “Fake News” Laws, No Harm Reduction of Disinformation

As we found out, between 2016 and 2020, 10 of the 11 countries surveyed – Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda – introduced or amended laws or regulations penalizing publication “false” information. The other country, Senegal, used existing laws for the same purpose.

If or when media education is taught, it bears little relation to the knowledge and skills needed to identify disinformation, with topics ranging from civics and behavior education in Ghana to self-awareness and awareness. problem solving in Kenya. To be successful, it must build on the work done by colleagues last year on information literacy …

When these laws or regulations are used to prevent the keep on going spreading harmful false information, as was the case against financial hoaxes in Uganda and dangerous Public health misinformation in South Africa, it is plausible that they could directly reduce the damage. However, punitive laws do little to deter and nothing to correct false information and therefore limit the damage, once the false information is in circulation. More than that, ten of the 31 laws or regulations we studied require no proof that the “false” information (if it was false) has caused or risked harm, before it is sanctioned. Six others concerned “Damage” such as “annoyance” of ministers, which are not legitimate under international law.

The laws do not take into account the different types of disinformation, what motivates them and their effects, and their effects. One of their main causes is the lack of easy public access to reliable information. It is not recognized in these laws. Like the wrong approach offered in Europe, requiring technology platforms to remove “illegal” content or face heavy fines, they are only addressing part of the problem. As Christine Czerniak of the World Health Organization infodemic team recently said: “I think universal access to credible information is really the goal here. It’s not just about staying in this reactive space… but trying to proactively amplify useful information ”.

One glimmer of light is that some countries seem to recognize this. Countries like South Africa, with legal frameworks that allow independent fact-checking initiatives to work, allow an effective way to correct misinformation, reducing damage. Malawi in 2016 introduced a new law obliging broadcasters to broadcast “counter-versions” of those “affected by the assertion of a (false) fact”. Senegal, in 2017, introduced a new self-regulatory press code aimed at raising standards against disinformation.

In the Western Cape, a first step towards teaching “literacy of disinformation”

Contrary to the zeal to punish “false” information, our second report found that in six of the seven countries studied – Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda – traditional media education was barely included in mainstream school curricula. Barriers to teaching media literacy begin with bureaucratic challenges and political will – from underfunding schools and poor teacher training to the perception of planners that curricula are already overloaded. Media education “is not the responsibility of any existing discipline,” said Professor Amadou Camara, a curriculum expert in Senegal. In Uganda, media literacy is not a priority, said Dr Grace Baguma, director of the National Curriculum Development Center. “The focus is on literacy for learners primarily in numeracy, literacy and science,” she explained.

If or when media education is taught, it bears little relation to the knowledge and skills needed to identify disinformation, with topics ranging from civics and behavior education in Ghana to self-awareness and awareness. problem solving in Kenya. To be successful, he must rely on work done by colleagues last year on information literacy, and promote knowledge and skills in a subset of media education that we call “disinformation education”.


In a grim picture, it is encouraging that a first step has been taken towards teaching disinformation literacy in South Africa. In 2020, the Western Cape introduced a new “online safety” program, aimed at establishing a “click-holdback” mindset, the ability to assess the credibility of websites…

Mastery of disinformation – knowledge and skills to identify disinformation

  1. The context: the context in which misinformation and accurate information is produced;
  2. Creation: who creates disinformation and who creates accurate information;
  3. Content: the main types or forms of bogus content, and how to identify the key characteristics that distinguish them from fair and accurate content;
  4. Circulation: the processes by which false and accurate information circulates, and can thus be identified;
  5. Consumption: the reasons why individuals, including ourselves, consume and believe false information;
  6. Consequences: the consequences of believing and sharing false information.

In a grim picture, it was heartening that a first step had been taken towards teaching disinformation literacy in South Africa. In 2020, the Western Cape introduced a new “online safety” program, aimed at establishing a “click restriction” mindset, the ability to assess the credibility of websites and understanding the effects of web sites. misinformation, Ismail Teladia, senior curriculum planner for Life Guidance, told us. It doesn’t cover everything we know about damaging disinformation, but brings a focus that no previous program has. It’s a beginning.

10 steps to reduce the harm of disinformation without restricting freedom of expression

  • Introduce the control of disinformation in school curricula;
  • Provide training, resources and support to teachers;
  • Make assessments (with references) for disinformation skills and knowledge;
  • Engage with traditional and social media to promote the key knowledge and skills required;
  • Enable public figures and institutions to set higher standards of accuracy, honesty *;
  • Activate independent media regulation systems based on standards;
  • Improve access to official information on important topics;
  • Support systems to promote the accuracy of official information
  • Work with other countries on a transparent, standards-based approach to content moderation by global technology companies
  • Revise “fake news” laws to comply with international law and only apply them when serious harm or risk of harm is proven

* It’s optimistic, we know that.

Peter Cunliffe-Jones is a visiting scholar at the University of Westminster and founder of Africa Check.

The other seven colleagues on this project are Assane Diagne, Alan Finlay, Dr Sahite Gaye, Wallace Gichunge, Dr Chido Onumah, Cornia Pretorius and Dr Anya Schiffrin.

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