DW Akademie and its partners in Serbia are using YouTube influencers to make MIL more appealing to young people. The project turns kids’ idols into their teachers.
Tabloids set the tone in the Serbian media landscape. They reach by far the largest audience with sensationalized headlines that regularly spread dis- and misinformation and trample on human rights. Children are also affected. Since 2018, the Serbian Press Council in cooperation with the DW Akademie has been specifically investigating violations of the press code that violate the rights of minors. Findings show that there have been approximately 70-80 cases per month.
The Serbian social media scene is flooded with hate comments, ranging from rape to death threats, which don’t get checked or deleted. The highly developed Serbian YouTuber landscape has drifted in a similar direction in recent years. The dominant channels are hosted by male "influencers" who unashamedly use offensive language, launch hate campaigns or spread violent misogynist fantasies.
All this highlights the urgent need for Media and Information Literacy (MIL) in Serbia. In 2018, "Language, Media and Culture" was introduced as an elective subject at secondary schools (ninth to twelfth grade). However, children already consume and use media at primary school age and have experiences with hate speech, cyberbullying or fake news. These major challenges cannot be mastered by parents and teachers alone.
Key figures are media professionals like journalists and influencers. They bring a great deal of specialist knowledge which they can get across to young people, teachers and parents. YouTubers in particular are idols for children and young people and are therefore credible authorities. When they talk about cybersecurity, hate speech or bullying, their input carries more weight. Furthermore, journalists and influencers themselves are potential change agents. By taking a look at media content from a MIL perspective, they not only reflect on their own work more consciously but also the development of the entire media landscape.
In Serbia, DW Akademie works with journalists and YouTubers on the "Young Media" project. In the past three years, more than 30 MIL trainers have been trained, including 12 influencers. The trainers teach students, teachers and young YouTubers and initiate discussions on media ethics, how to deal with hate speech and privacy attacks on the internet. In 2019, DW Akademie supported eight YouTubers in publishing two music clips about standing up to hate speech and cyberbullying. The videos received more than three million clicks each. In doing so, they have triggered a broad social discussion that has reached news outlets, NGOs and government institutions. Journalists and influencers have collaborated to produce e-learning videos. And with their support, the Serbian youth organization has launched a new YouTube channel, including MIL as a central theme.
This experience has shown that when teachers, NGOs, media associations, journalists and influencers work collaboratively, they can strike new paths for MIL and reach younger target groups.
Author: Klaus Dahmann is the country manager for Serbia at DW Akademie.