Media Education Workshop with the Participation of Students from the Free International University of Moldova and Ion Creanga State Pedagogical University: An Impetus to Learn How to Distinguish Fakes in the Media and on Social Networks

40 young people from two higher education institutions – the Free International University of Moldova (ULIM) and Ion Creanga State Pedagogical University from Chisinau (UPSC), the 1st, the 2nd, and the 3rd years of studies, joined the media education workshop organized by the Independent Journalism Center (IJC) on April 25, 2024. The activity was aimed at helping young people to be better informed and “equipped” with the knowledge and skills for distinguishing fakes in the media and on social networks.

“The society we live in is dominated by traditional and online media, including social networks, and due to them, we have access to an enormous amount of information. On the one hand, this fact is extremely beneficial for us; on the other hand, it is quite challenging. Why is it so? Because a lot of information of doubtful value also circulates via all these media channels. We become consumers of information à la minute, often without being able to use the critical thinking filter while we read, hear, or watch this information. Today, the IJC urges you to be as vigilant as possible. Always ask yourself questions about the new things you learn from the media you use: otherwise, you can easily be misguided, find yourself in the trap of fake news, or become manipulated and/or misinformed,” Victoria Tataru, IJC program coordinator, said.

Ana Sarbu, the workshop coach, provided several arguments to make the audience comprehend why it is necessary to be an educated, well-informed, and protected media consumer nowadays. The journalist discussed a series of clues using which one could conclude whether a particular news item is fake or reliable.

“The websites which provide fake news are typically clickbait ones. The purpose of these websites is for users to access them, i.e. to visit them after clicking the news items. That’s it. The more views they have, the more money they make. As a rule, these websites spread unreliable news, rumors, or fakes. You should pay attention to the following: when you enter such websites you can see shocking, sensational headlines aimed at impressing you and stirring your emotions (such as shock or awe). I’d like to recommend you to avoid opening such news items. The chances that they are fakes are 99%. Respectable news websites or TV channels don’t use headlines which make you feel scared, anxious, sad, or furious. Exaggerated headlines are intended for misleading the audience. Another indication that the news item you see is a fake one is that you open this news item and are immediately asked to share it. This is a 100% fake news website! No matter how tempting the title may sound, if you see a window which asks you to share this news item, you can be sure that you are being misled!” the journalist explained.

The young people also learned about the other indicators which make the difference between a reliable, well-documented news item and an item of uncertain, doubtful value. This knowledge was applied during a practical exercise when several examples of news items were examined and discussed in terms of the name of the website, hyperlinks used for publishing them, quotes used in the texts, spelling and stylistic errors they contained, and emotions they stirred.

In the same context, the journalist also analyzed several other terms from the sphere of media education (phishing, trolling, and deepfakes) directly related to spreading fake news, their impact, and effects.

“I don’t mean to scare you, but currently, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), everything can be modified. If you see the examples we have prepared for you, you will notice how voices, faces, and messages can be altered, and this is really dangerous. Advanced AI algorithms create videos which are almost indistinguishable from the real ones, featuring fake episodes from politicians’ lives or inexistent events. Deepfake is content forged with the help of artificial intelligence; it seems to be quite real though it has never existed.  Why is it so dangerous? Because each of us could find our images in embarrassing photos or videos sent to some family members privately or shared publicly on the networks. Due to AI, everything (voices, faces, or actions) can be copied and transformed. This sort of images or videos could affect our lives because they are fakes and could push us into making erroneous decisions,” the coach concluded, encouraging the young people to learn the rules according to which certain fakes are created in order to protect themselves.

At the end of the workshop, the young people from the two higher education institutions – the Faculty of Psychology and Special Psychopedagogy (UPSC) and the Faculty of Social Sciences and Education, specialty “Psychology” (ULIM), appreciated the importance of such instruction sessions during which they were urged to treat information from the online environment more cautiously.

Alexandru Melnic, Ion Creanga State Pedagogical University student: I believe this activity is useful, because we see lots of misleading information circulating online, and I don’t think that its amount is likely to decrease anytime soon. It’s good for young people to know how to detect it and to react adequately.

Tina Dodita, Ion Creanga State Pedagogical University student: I have attended such a workshop for the first time and I’m pleasantly surprised. This information is very important for us; it is well structured and detailed. Until recently, I paid little attention to what kind of information I read, but when I learned about fake news, this topic caught my attention, so I’ll keep these recommendations in mind for the future.

Sergiu Costetchi, Ion Creanga State Pedagogical University student:  I have learned extremely useful things I didn’t know before – which news are fake and which ones are true, and the criteria we can use to distinguish them. I’ll certainly be more cautious after today’s workshop.

Pavel Zagoruico, Free International University of Moldova student: This workshop is even better than I expected. It was useful, interesting, and interactive. After today’s session, I will try to pay more attention to the news, check the sources, because I used to limit myself to what I heard or read on social networks until recently. It’s a fresh impulse for me!

Vlad Ursu, Free International University of Moldova student: The lecture was very interesting. It was based on the information I knew, but it included some new details, anyway. Currently, I’m definitely better equipped not to be misguided by fake news.

Daniel Gritcu, Free International University of Moldova student: I have attended several workshops before, but this one is much more interactive and informative. Besides, it was not pure theory; it also included some recommendations which could be immediately applied practically. What new things have I learned? That I have to check and to consult multiple sources.

The twin sisters Cristina and Carolina Igmatulin, Free International University of Moldova students, remarked that the coach cared very much about the key messages of her presentation, making them understandable for the audience and repeating the important information several times. “The workshop was productive, and we had a good time,” the participants said.

The Media Literacy Café meet-up was organized within the project „Building cohesion in Moldova through promoting social inclusion and diminishing discrimination” implemented by the Independent Journalism Center within the program “Joint Equal Opportunity Initiative – Phase II” implemented with the support of the Government of Switzerland.

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