MIL Youth in Action to Address Online Harmful Content

Author: Armin Tufo

Having had the opportunity to listen to vast and extensive knowledge and experience of panelists during the initial panels where crucial aspects of MIL were introduced—the need to integrate MIL with formal education; political obstacles to the reform of curricula; and the experience of researchers with MIL— a panel focused solely on the youth kicked off. The official title of the Second Panel comprised of five panelists was “MIL Youth in action to address online harmful content,” giving us a brief insight into what to expect. Put differently, we were able to gather that we would be addressed by the younger generations equipped with media and information literacy skills they adopt to counter and minimize the role of online hate speech and disinformation.

The panel will explore how to empower the youth of SEE through MIL [and] our panelists will share their experiences in participating in certain projects; their ideas how to … share their knowledge and their skills with their peers, and their ideas [on] how to make MIL an important topic in their generation.

 

Hana Sokolović, panel moderator

The first in line who made her remarks was a participant of the Young European Ambassadors Project and team leader at ‘WeBalkans,’ Selena Tasic. As highly experienced in the field of communication, coordination and leadership of projects, and in international relations, Tasic was swift in providing information about the mentioned Young European Ambassadors Project as a platform for young voices and a regional approach to projects and advocacy. Namely, she highlighted the importance of involving young people in the decision-making process, but also the benefits of possessing MIL skills as young people. It not only allows the youth to be highly critical and engaged when it comes to consuming content-which was the main theme of this panel-but it provides for a generation that can be ambassadors to each other. More precisely, throughout the workshops held by YEA, peer-to-peer methodology of learning is used where young people, having learned MIL skills from experts, can educate other youth in a hands-on approach. By doing so, young people stay highly motivated and inspire others to become peer-to-peer educators themselves, obtain, and spread the knowledge further. Certainly, as presented by Selena herself, the youth have a lot to offer but also to gain by being involved in the process of acquiring media and information literacy, with promising results for the future.

… we need to help young people become able to use their technical, social and now digital skills in order to absorb media content. . . we first need to educate them on it by developing a set of skills and techniques . . . but also on how to use critical thinking when absorbing media. 

Selena Tasic, Young European Ambassadors Team Leader

Going to the second speaker who addressed the audience, Hadžera Selimović, a student of international relations and a pronounced volunteer in youth activism-related projects, we were reminded of all the important terms and definitions surrounding the topic of MIL. Hadžera passionately explained the key differences between fake news and misinformation, as well as the meaning of the so-called social media bubble. According to Hadžera, as we constantly face the power of social media algorithms, it is possible for us to become “isolated” in an intellectual bubble in which, practically, all the content is alike, disallowing us to inform ourselves and expand our horizons. However, as she explained, there we witness the important role of MIL skills as it is exactly them, combined with critical thinking, that allow us to ask the right questions and get to the right answers. Unfortunately, in her personal experience, Hadžera wasn’t as optimistic in her generation, saying that young people don’t possess sufficient MIL skills and are not as interested in them. It also doesn’t help that people’s attention is grabbed by the spread of fake news which seem novel and include the shock factor, based on the novelty hypothesis as Hadžera briefly explained. She did put an emphasis on the educational system and its role in promoting the skills lacking in today’s youth, whilst stressing that hate speech can be countered by responsible engagement of each and every single one of us online.

. . . MIL, for me, means the ability to access and evaluate the information we receive from the news or what we learn at university… We live in the digital age and to engage responsibly on social media we exactly need MIL skills.

Hadžera Selimovic, Young European Ambassador

In the following minutes, participants of the South-Eastern Europe Regional Conference on MIL were able to hear about an inspiring story of Tara Simovic, a UNICEF Young Reporter and peer educator herself. Through her interesting experience of unexpectedly being involved in reporting and journalism whilst she was "scrolling Instagram," Tara explained her path towards developing MIL skills as part of her membership at UNICEF Young Reporters. She noted the adverse effects of misinformation she observed through her activism and volunteering, exclaiming that misinformation leads to the undermining of science, confusion, but can also be directed against political pluralism and certain political opponents. As 'digital natives', she expressed the responsibilities of the younger generations when it comes to online content; however, she shared a few facts showing that even 50% of young people questioned in research had never heard of the term 'fake news' and the majority of those who did had tough time explaining the term. Important to mention, Tara spoke about the necessity of a healthy parent-child relationship in raising awareness on online responsibility and social media usage patterns, saying that it is a two-way street where both kids and parents can and should learn from each other.

As UNICEF Montenegro Young Reporters we have had the chance to become media literate citizens by attending numerous workshops on this topic and by working on strengthening our critical-thinking skills, as well as by participating in many conferences, online discussions, TV shows, making our own videos, writing blogs. . . 

Tara Simovic, UNICEF Montenegro Young Reporter

During the second half of the panel, a fellow SEE Youth Newsroom colleague and writer, Kristina Dimitrova, introduced us to her work which so far focused on writing articles, conducting interviews and following various events for the platform. Beside her diligence and positive attitude, Kristina elaborated on her work at the Youth Council Next Generation where she acts as a project writer and coordinator. Mainly, our speaker and panelist highlighted the need to incorporate a learn-by-doing approach in workshops and seminars organized on the topic of MIL. The reason is to promote active learning and let the young participants "express themselves," as she said. Currently, the plan of the Council she works at is to realize a project on teaching younger people media and information literacy which is to be held in North Macedonia.

… we created a youth exchange called Media Literacy InfoLab . . . [which] is scheduled to happen next year in May. . . and there will be different kinds of informal methods involved . . . to raise awareness among [the youth] about the issue of being media literate. . . 

Kristina Dimitrova, Young Council Next Generation; SEE Youth Newsroom member

Towards the end of the panel on the position of youth within the context of MIL and the online space, the Executive Director of the Media Diversity Institute in Belgrade, Ivana Jelaca, took the floor. In her opening remarks, she brought up the importance of different stakeholders—governmental organizations, NGOs and civil society in all its forms—in the performance of promoting MIL skills. Also emphasized was the primacy of social media platforms and influencers in sharing important messages in countering misinformation and hate speech. She elucidated the approach of the Institute; an approach based on monitoring the media and working with the young people to counter false/low-quality content by coming up with creative and reasonable solutions and alternatives. Jelaca also stressed the value of the connection and collaboration between informal and formal education and how this synergy can be of great benefit to all the stakeholders mentioned above, as well as individuals. As the last panelist's time was nearing an end, it was clear that the audience listening via the Zoom platform was able to witness all the roles of the younger people who come together to actively and greatly contribute to a better society; a society characterized by highly-skilled individuals who know how to spot fake news and hate speech and partake in the production of responsible, credible and unquestionably inspiring online content.

 

Young people are a source of ideas, approaches, topics for us and they are the main drivers of our projects . . . because young people are in the middle of changes we are going through but they are also the key to the solution.

Ivana Jelaca, Media Diversity Institute

 

The full panel can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfqWTj5CpVc&t=13528s.