Media literacy

Stanford Study: PEN America Workshops Significantly Improved Participants’ Digital Media Literacy Skills to Combat Misinformation


Workshops created to address the threat to democracy and open discourse from deliberately spreading false information

(NEW YORK) – A new study from the Stanford Social Media Lab evaluating the effectiveness of PEN America’s media literacy workshops found that the interventions significantly improved participants’ ability to identify and resist misinformation and disinformation. The analysis concluded that the workshops, conducted in 2021 and offered in partnership with organizations serving Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black, Latino and Native American communities, significantly improved participants’ digital media literacy skills and ability distinguish between true and false information.

PEN America, the free expression organization, has long documented the threat to open speech and democracy posed by the deliberate dissemination of false information, or disinformation, beginning with the 2017 groundbreaking report, Fake News: Fraudulent news and the fight for truth.

To counter this threat, PEN America launched its Know the news media literacy program in 2020 to equip the public with the knowledge and skills to defend themselves against disinformation. In 2021, PEN America partnered with four organizations deeply invested in the health and empowerment of their respective communities: Mi Familia Vota, National Action Network; Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the National Congress of American Indians to stem the impact of misinformation related to COVID-19 and vaccines in communities of color.

To better understand the effectiveness of our media literacy workshops, PEN America has partnered with the Stanford Social Media Lab to evaluate the workshops. As the Stanford researchers note in their white paper, there is surprisingly little research available evaluating the effectiveness of interventions to counter the impact of misinformation in communities of color, despite the fact that these communities are frequently the targets of disinformation.

In its evaluation, the Stanford Social Media Lab found that PEN America’s interventions improved skills in all areas, and the results provided early evidence of the particular benefit of reaching workshop participants through from familiar sources such as local nonprofits or peer networks they already know and trust. improve trust in information, especially on health and political topics. The workshops were led by PEN America experts and featured doctors, fact checkers, and organizers known and trusted by the partner organizations’ respective communities, with the goal of deepening confidence in the message.

Summer Lopez, PEN America’s Free Speech Program Manager, said, “Disinformation poses an increasingly virulent threat to free speech and democracy, and the best defense is an empowered, empowered public. knowledge and skills to identify and resist attempts at deception. We are delighted that this study demonstrates the effectiveness of a community-tailored and informed media literacy program, and hope that it will make a significant contribution to the burgeoning field of research aimed at understanding what interventions can mitigate the pernicious effects of deliberate attempts to deceive the public. public.”

Jeff Hancock, Harry and Norman Chandler Professor of Communication and Founding Director of the Stanford Social Media Lab, said: “This study summarizes some of the most important work in the fight against misinformation. To overcome the challenges of misinformation, we need to center the perspectives of communities of color and work alongside organizations that can speak to their strengths and needs. These studies show that equipping ordinary citizens with tools to sort fact from fiction can help build resilience against misrepresentation.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice said, “AAJC has appreciated partnering with PEN America on this important and timely program. Since effective strategies for countering misinformation and disinformation must be grounded in community needs, we appreciated the people-centered approach taken by the media literacy sessions. We hope that the techniques and resources shared during the session left our attendees better equipped to combat any health-related fallacies they might encounter on a day-to-day basis. »

Findings from the assessment included:

  • Significant overall improvement in participants’ digital skills, including: using reverse image search to identify real versus fake content; use of fact-checking tools; click hold to avoid clicking the first source and make more informed choices about which source to go to first, and watch for emotional reactions to headlines, which can increase susceptibility to misinformation.
  • Significant improvement in participants’ ability to distinguish between real and fake news. The likelihood of participants correctly assessing the veracity of a headline increased from 47% to 61%.
  • Strong improvement in their ability to detect misinformation about COVID-19, from a pre-intervention average of 53% to a post-intervention average of 82%.
  • Increased likelihood of investigating headlines to identify facts from untruths by applying their newfound skills. Participants’ survey of a news headline increased from 6% to 32% after attending a workshop.

Additionally, the Stanford Social Media Lab noted that while many current approaches to protecting against misinformation encourage people to use fact-checking resources, that information is often only available in English. PEN America’s work has also identified the lack of credible news sources in languages ​​other than English as a critical gap in the fight against misinformation, especially since fake news is often quickly translated into multiple languages. .

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and around the world. We defend the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the freedoms that make it possible. Learn more at

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057

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