Written by Dr. Samantha McAleese
Here at MediaSmarts, we’ve just wrapped up another research project called Reporting Platforms: Young Canadians Evaluate Efforts to Counter Disinformation. This project created space for youth from across Canada to examine and assess reporting processes on popular social media apps (like Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube). We wanted to learn more about how young people feel about current efforts to counter misinformation and disinformation and what solutions they might have to address this particular online harm. To do this, we facilitated three focus groups with 36 participants ages 16 to 29, talked to them about how often they see misinformation and disinformation online and what they do about it, and asked them to comment on whether they trust platforms to keep them safe and informed while scrolling and sharing.
What we heard:
Young Canadians report encountering misinformation and disinformation regularly online and know how this impacts their digital experiences. They respond in various ways when they see misleading or false information on their feeds. Some ignore the content, some attempt to verify it, some report it to the platform, and others try to converse with the person who posted the content – especially if that person is a friend or a family member. Youth are concerned about the potential harm that can come from spreading misinformation and disinformation and agree that it is essential for platforms to do something about it.
After evaluating the reporting processes for platforms (Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube), participants doubled down on their concern and emphasized that platforms aren’t doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Young people don’t currently trust platforms to prioritize their safety and worry about the onus placed on users to identify, flag, and report harmful content. The solutions they offered during the evaluation exercise and in our discussions serve to adjust the responsibility and ask platforms to be more proactive and effective at countering misinformation and disinformation online. You can find the complete list of recommendations here.
Young Canadians want more digital media literacy content on social apps:
As part of the evaluation exercise, we asked participants about existing reporting mechanisms on various platforms. These questions sought to gauge awareness of the reporting tools and processes and assess how clearly platforms define misinformation and disinformation for users. Responses, conversations, and collaborative engagement in building recommendations revealed that young people want more digital media literacy support. They want to develop a strong understanding of misinformation and disinformation, and they want platforms to provide clear and accessible definitions to support their learning. They also want more transparent processes for reporting harmful content and a better understanding of how information spreads online.
Not only do youth want more digital media literacy, but they want it to be available in the spaces where they already are. They want it to appear in posts, videos, reels, and stories and be presented in fun, engaging, and interesting ways. In fact, some participants noted the primer video we showed at the beginning of the focus group as a good example of what could be shared on platforms. The video provided clear definitions and examples of misinformation and disinformation to ensure everyone was on the same page before we started our discussions and evaluation exercise. Youth understand the need for ongoing and accessible digital media literacy, and they want social media platforms to understand the importance of it as well. In practice, this could involve platforms investing in digital media literacy content created by organizations well-versed in educating people about authentication and verification strategies and incorporating this content directly into the platform. In other words, this is a call to make digital media literacy part of the user experience.
Digital media literacy resources:
This qualitative research project intentionally positioned youth as experts to be actively involved in assessing current approaches and designing new policies, interventions, and tools to mitigate the spread of misinformation and disinformation in online spaces. This project builds on our previous research and confirms young Canadians’ frustrations with a lack of opportunities to learn about and engage in best practices for countering misinformation and disinformation online.
In our efforts to empower young Canadians—and the families, educators, and communities who support them—to take steps to mitigate the spread of misinformation and disinformation, MediaSmarts has the following free resources available on our website:
Break the Fake. A suite of fact-checking tips, workshops, and lesson plans for determining whether something is true online.
Reality Check: The Game. Fast, fun, and engaging activities that allow people to test their skills and learn new authentication techniques.
Authentication 101. Essential information on how to search and authenticate information.
Finding and Evaluating Science and Health Information. Information about health and science topics, types of misinformation that are particularly common in those subjects, and steps we can take to determine how reliable a source is.
Impact of Misinformation on the Democratic Process. Information about how to read election and political news critically, recognize misinformation and disinformation, and be a more active and engaged consumer of political news.
Verifying Online News. Information about how Canadians get their news, how to recognize fact from fiction in news media, and how to identify reliable and unreliable news sources.
This project adds to the growing knowledge base from which MediaSmarts continues to work with community partners, policymakers, and platforms to counter misinformation and disinformation and prevent and address various online harms. We will continue to produce and promote public awareness campaigns (including Break the Fake and Check Then Share) and new educational tools and advocate for broader access to digital media literacy resources.
We want to thank everyone who took the time to participate in this research project. Your experiences, concerns, and recommendations are summarized in the report and serve to strengthen the evidence base from which policymakers and platforms can draw to build and implement solutions to better prevent and address the spread of misinformation and disinformation online.
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