Media Literacy – Journal – DAWN.COM
SHOCKING. Sinister. Punishable. There are many ways to describe the network of India-linked anti-Pakistan NGOs and fake media uncovered by the EU DisinfoLab. It is “cybernuclear” that defines the conflicts of the 21st century. And it is time for Pakistan to craft a cohesive response to the disinformation challenge.
Our politicians and the security establishment, who have previously warned of India’s “fifth generation war” to undermine Pakistan, feel vindicated. They will now feel doubly justified in suppressing any criticism of the Pakistani state citing nefarious Indian plots. The state was already on the path of crushing freedom of expression in the name of protecting national security and institutions.
But the threat of misinformation demands a more progressive and holistic response. Pakistan risks politicizing the concept of disinformation, viewing it narrowly as a matter of national security. But misinformation is a broader challenge that cuts across all domains (e.g. the world is bracing for the wave of misinformation that could undermine the Covid-19 vaccination effort).
Pakistan’s discomfort with the debate also increases the risk that stakeholders will label anything they disagree with as misinformation, further eroding the quality of national discourse and diminishing trust in institutions and governments. process.
The challenge is not as simple as separating fact from fiction.
The best approach to tackling misinformation is to strengthen media literacy – opting for empowerment over suppression, critical evaluation over censorship.
As the news landscape becomes more complex, everyone needs strong skills to spot misinformation: the ability to identify sources and assess their credibility; synthesize and cross-check information from multiple sources; understand the context in which the information is produced; analyze the economic drivers of the dissemination of (dis)information; and share information responsibly and transparently.
Media literacy is best imparted through the school curriculum at primary, secondary and higher education levels. To survive and thrive in the 21st century, citizens will need this essential skill, the development of which must be integrated into all other disciplines. Pakistan has not prioritized new media education in its national curriculum, and is unlikely to do so because such education requires those same qualities that our state and society perceive as problematic: thinking criticism, skepticism, analysis.
One of the most striking aspects of EU DisinfoLab’s findings is that fake news, published by fake media outlets, was then amplified by credible media platforms, including India’s largest news service. While the public should be media savvy, the bar is particularly high for journalists. The pressure of the 24/7 news cycle, lack of continuing professional education and resource constraints – plus, in some cases, overt state pressure – mean that news organizations general public are also likely to spread misinformation. This needs to stop, with newsrooms prioritizing sourcing and fact-checking more as a way to maintain credibility.
But the challenge is not as simple as separating fact from fiction. The most persuasive misinformation is that which is factually correct, but partially deployed or worded in a misleading or agenda-serving way. We need to ask ourselves why and how the information was produced, and who benefits from its dissemination.
Such analysis requires real technical skills, ranging from basic digital skills to understanding how online algorithms work, how tech platforms generate revenue, and the implications of all this for online content. Media literacy on this scale requires strong political commitment and investment.
Currently, the responsibility for increasing media literacy lies with the major digital platforms themselves. For example, after misinformation shared on WhatsApp led to communal violence in India, the platform participated in a training campaign targeting 100,000 Indians. In 2019, Google expanded the curriculum of its digital safety offering for kids, “Be Internet Awesome,” to include media literacy. And Twitter now flags false or misleading tweets. But acknowledging the platforms’ agendas, the limitations of their “red flag” systems, and the economic motivations behind their selective approach to news moderation is in itself an important topic of media literacy.
Critics of media literacy argue that skills will make mistrust the default mode of news consumers. This is potentially counterproductive at a time when another challenge is the need to restore trust in institutions, experts, data and traditional media. Question everything, and even what is credible becomes doubtful. This triggers a vicious circle of paranoia, increasing vulnerability to co-optation by radical interest groups, right wing or otherwise. Without a doubt, there is a balance to be found. But empowering people to make sense of their information-saturated world is the only way forward.
The author is a freelance journalist.
Posted in Dawn, December 14, 2020