The coronavirus has halted most of the globe, but there’s one movement it has fueled — media literacy.
In India, the United States and Brazil, fact-checking and media literacy organizations are training citizens to confront the new coronavirus “infodemic.” Some workshops that were planned and launched before the pandemic switched to an online version. Others popped up with the outbreak as an opportunity to raise awareness about COVID-19 misinformation.
In late February, before India was put into lockdown, the fact-checking organization Vishvas.news visited six cities to conduct in-person media literacy training. About 1,200 participants learned basic verification and fact-checking tools in those meetings.
Vishvas.news’ editor-in-chief Rajesh Upadhyay said his organization employed a “train-the-trainer” model so participants are equipped to share the knowledge with their immediate social circles. The goal was for each of those 1,200 participants to train 50 people. The actual results one month later exceeded Vishvas.news’ expectations.
“Half of the total number of attendees (around 600) have further trained 55,000 people in their own social circle. It happened in just one month in the wake of COVID outbreak,” said Upadhyay in an email to the International Fact-Checking Network.
Upadhyay said Vishvas’s ultimate goal is to get 100,000 people trained from the original 1,200 who attended the in-person sessions. If the current pace holds, it could happen in the next month.
In the United States, the MediaWise Voter Project also hosted a train-the-trainer session in early March to teach 11 college students basic fact-checking and media literacy. With most college campuses closed, the team has pivoted its in-person training to online sessions with their classmates, as well as creating content on social media.
Barbara Allen, director of college programming at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fl., (where the IFCN and MediaWise are hosted), said she’s been impressed with how the students have been sharing their newfound skills with their peers.
“When you can promote a sort of … inside information that other people haven’t heard of, it gives you a lot of … legitimacy and credibility, so our students are having a lot of fun with taking these tools to their peers,” Allen said.
Sonia Rao, a freshman at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), noted the students’ primary focus is still fighting misinformation to improve student voting, but they’ve had to shift it during the COVID-19 crisis.
“There’s a lot of misinformation going on about the new coronavirus, and it’s a really great way to explain to people what misinformation and disinformation are, what media literacy is and how all of them can be more media literate,” Rao said.
In Brazil, Agência Lupa switched LupaEducação from in-person to online sessions. The group held three online workshops with 100 journalists during the outbreak. A total of 23 participants are people who live or work in the country’s poorest slums, also known as “favelas.”
“Brazil has a big deficiency in terms of statistics about its favelas. Our goal with this program is to train journalists who are working in these locations so that they can produce reliable content too,” said Natália Leal, Agência Lupa’s content director.
Leal said that Lupa’s workshops are focused on verifying content that spreads easily through WhatsApp, especially hoaxes that use audio and photos.
“I hope that from this training participants can have more tools to reflect their realities. And, in consequence, that they can produce more content about the places where they live,” Leal said.