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Fighting disinformation during a pandemic

27 October 2020

Someone sitting at a desk looking at a hypnotizing computer screen.

Over the last six months, disinformation has spread its tentacles into the COVID-19 pandemic: not only are we still swimming in “fake news” on all the usual topics, but now we are also drowning in myths about this new virus. Confusion about potentially life-saving personal and policy choices, from treatments to outcomes to mask use to vaccines, is widespread.

As our inboxes and social media feeds are flooded with ever greater amounts of information, it’s becoming harder to distinguish truth from lies. Fighting disinformation has always been important, but now it’s also a health issue. Recognizing and quashing disinformation online is more critical now than ever.

What is media & information literacy?

Misinformation is inaccurate information that is spread unintentionally. Disinformation involves the intent to mislead. While the latter is more malicious, both involve false information and can be difficult to identify and stamp out.

But we’re trying. The Canadian Commission for UNESCO and its partners have been battling disinformation for a long time by promoting media and information literacy (MIL). MIL can help you identify different types of media messages and understand their intentions and possible impacts. When citizens are equipped with MIL, they have the tools they need to engage constructively with society’s most challenging problems.

How can you fight disinformation?

Access to reliable information is essential for democracy, so the spread of false information is a pressing social issue. Christopher Dornan, an associate professor of journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, takes a look at how we got here and offers guidance for the conscientious citizen in his paper, Dezinformatsiya: The past, present and future of ‘fake news’.

Here are some other suggestions for detecting and fighting fake news:

  • Become your own editor. Editors are experts at identifying weak logic or unsubstantiated claims. “Vaccinate” yourself against fake news by becoming aware of the varieties of disinformation before they find you and getting an inside look at the deceptive logic that its purveyors use.
  • Break the fake” by ensuring information is true before sharing it. This online hub outlines four easy steps to check online information. You’ll also find a workshop and facilitator’s guide, a self-directed tutorial, lesson plans for all grade levels, videos and more.
  • Be aware, skeptical and proactive when you read online, as discussed in our blog entry about how youth are navigating online information. You’ll find examples of the challenges and best practices in browsing and develop your critical thinking skills.

Participate in two upcoming media literacy weeks

From October 24 to 31, 2020 UNESCO’s Global Media & Information Literacy Week will share events and resources around the globe.

This year’s theme is “Resisting Disinfodemic: Media and Information Literacy for everyone & by everyone.” The week will highlight how we can address disinformation by recognizing everyone’s influence in sharing and creating content and better understanding the risks and opportunities that come with exchanging online information.

Media Literacy Week, a Canadian campaign hosted by MediaSmarts and the Canadian Teachers' Federation to promote digital and media literacy in Canada, will run the same week.

Learn more

To mark these events, we’ve gathered a list of resources to help you build your media and information literacy. Please check them out and share them widely!

  • Reality Check, a collection of resources by Media Smarts to help you recognize mis- or disinformation and verify accurate information in news, politics, science and health online, with engaging videos, tip sheets, lesson plans and interactive skills tests
  • Tag Fake news
  • Tag Media Literacy