Media Literacy Index 2021: is there resilience to fake news and post-truth in Europe?

Author: Kristina Dimitrova

The Covid-19 pandemic brought many challenges on different levels across the globe, including the emergence of infodemic affecting people’s health and lives. The word ‘infodemic’ was coined in 2003 after the flood of information related to the SARS outbreak, blending the words ‘information’ and ‘epidemic’. The excessive amount of disinformation from deliberately misleading sources, media misreporting and global conspiracy theories, create distrust among the public about the medical and scientific knowledge, as well as about the overall management of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Media Literacy Index 2021 issued this March by Open Society Institute – Sofia is the 4th edition in a row which ranks 35 European countries according to their resilience to fake news and the post-truth phenomena during the Covid-19 infodemic. It uses indicators as: media freedom, level of education, trust in society and implementation of new online tools for citizen participation. These groups of indicators have a corresponding importance (weight), hence media literacy and education indicators are taking the vast majority of the share or 85% combined, while trust and e-participation indicators are representing the rest. Given that, the media literacy index converts the data into a score from 0 to 100 and ranks the countries from 1 to 35 (highest to lowest).

Ranking and scores in Europe 

Finland scores on the very top with 78 points, accompanied by the countries in Northern Europe as: Denmark (73 points), Estonia (72 points), Sweden (72 points) and Ireland (70 points). On the other hand, North Macedonia ranks last on the 35th place with 15 points, followed by the countries in Southeastern Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina (19 points), Albania (22 points), Montenegro (26 points), and Turkey (28 points).

Compared to the previous editions of the Media Literacy Index report from 2017, 2018 and 2019, Turkey has made the biggest progress in the score with 14+ as of 2017 and moving 3 positions up the ranking. North Macedonia has also made a progress of +5 points since 2017, but remains last on the very bottom of the list. Other improvements in the ranking can be seen in France (+4 points up), Portugal (+3), Iceland (+3), Estonia (+2), Sweden (+2), and Lithuania (+2), compared to 2017. Regarding the drop of ranking, Slovenia is in the lead with -5 positions, then the Netherlands (-3), Austria (-2), Poland (-2), the Czech Republic (-2), Latvia (-2) and BiH (-2).

Out of all 35 countries Estonia, Sweden and Ireland have improved the most in scores and ranking being 3rd, 4th and 5thplace, while Latvia (20th), Slovenia (14th) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (34th) have shown the biggest decline in scores and ranking given the indicators of the index 2021.

The clusters of the countries 

The clusters represent the groups of countries who have similar characteristics and trends shown in the analysis in Media Literacy Index 2021, ranking from 1 to 5 (highest to lowest). The first cluster involves 6 countries from Northern Europe, Finland being the 1st and the Netherlands the 6th. The countries that can be found in the 2nd cluster, in total 11, are mostly located in Southwestern and Central Europe. Among them, Belgium is performing the best, while Poland and Spain the worst taking 16th and 17th place, respectively. Next, the 3rd cluster consists of 9 countries, spreading from north to south, starting with Lithuania and Czech Republic to Hungary and Cyprus scoring last in the cluster. Furthermore, the 4th cluster counts 6 neighboring countries located in Southeastern Europe, where Greece ranks the highest at 27th place and Montenegro the lowest at 32nd place. The last cluster has only 3 countries from Southeast Europe with Albania being first, followed by BiH and finally, North Macedonia ranking at the very bottom on the 35th place.

Compared to the clusters in 2019 and 2018, most of the countries have stayed within the same clusters, although some have moved down to a lower scoring cluster, such as Belgium, Germany, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Latvia, Italy, Greece, Romania, Albania and BiH. Turkey is the only country that has climbed up one cluster, from 5th to 4th.

Education before regulation 

Given the conclusions and recommendations in Media Literacy Index 2021, education is crucial for combating fake news and increasing the resilience potential to post-truth in societies. Even though other factors play a role, too, such as political polarization and confirmation bias, ‘better functional education and specialized media literacy education would offer resistance against the worst cases of fake news and post-truth’ as stated in the Media Literacy Index 2021. In turn, such action will bring back the trust in others, will tone down the social and political conflicts, and consequently, will create a healthier environment for all during the Covid-19 pandemic.