How do young people distinguish news from misinformation? In Jordan, youth developed a fun app for their peers to learn how to verify and assess information
False information, rumors and unreliable sources abound these days and young people are particularly susceptible to targeted disinformation. Often unaware of the dangers, they unknowingly share fake news with others. In the Palestinian territories, Guatemala and Jordan, DW Akademie and its local partners PYALARA and Comunicares have been working with youth, helping them develop creative approaches to inform peers about risks of the digital world.
As part of the "MIL goes viral" project, they produced three interactive apps that use different approaches to teach young users how to tackle false information and rumors. The project is a component of the "Initiative for Transparency and Freedom of Expression: Media Resilience during Crisis," funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ).
If you want to make learning about Media and Information Literacy (MIL) fun, how do you turn an idea into an interactive tool? That’s the concept behind the "MIL goes viral" project, which in Jordan got underway with training sessions for youth between the ages of 19 and 25. The project aims to help young people better understand how to use and consume news.
Hazem Ayasrah, a participant, described the process: "There’s a big problem with fake news and disinformation in Jordan, and it’s getting worse. We needed a solution, and the project involves us young people in creating something interactive that motivates people to participate and learn how to distinguish reliable from false information," he said.
"Some groups wanted to plan workshops or awareness campaigns on social media,” he pointed out, “but our group decided that an interactive app would have a bigger impact."
As part of the training, young participants learned how to write news using the "5 Ws" and were also introduced to message verification. While researching, they found that particularly local media outlets based their news on false or unreliable sources. Realizing this, the topic became more tangible for the participants as well as more urgent.
Hazem and his group decided to create a simple but dynamic game concept that would show players how to distinguish fake from trustworthy information. "Players need to learn these skills so they can use them in their daily lives, whether they’re using social media or just reading a newspaper," he explained.
Two experienced journalists helped the group choose and prepare the news, and the group also received support from MIL experts and media trainers. Together, they decided to name the app "Strong News".
"Strong News" is aimed at youth between the ages of 16 and 19 and focuses on disinformation. The goal is to train players in verifying news and information and to help them develop critical thinking and analytical skills.
The game is set in a fictional media outlet; the players take on the role of editors who produce news themselves and then publish it.
As the game proceeds, players receive photos and information. They have to decide whether to publish them as news, and for this they have to critically assess the texts’ content.
The outlet’s success and reputation depend on the quality of the items it publishes: the outlet gains recognition if it continually produces accurate and verified information, but its reputation suffers if the players spread misleading information and fake news. Players receive feedback after each task, which becomes more detailed and complex as players move to the next level.
The game’s success is linked to whether the number of its followers increases or drops as well as its rating on a success scale.
This determines whether players can advance to the next level. Those who reach the highest level and have the most followers appear on a leaderboard.
All news stories used in the app are based on authentic local or international events. With this, the game promotes basic fact-checking skills and aims to raise players’ awareness about the importance of reliable sources and quality journalism.
In designing the app, Hazem said the group benefited from its diversity. “We were different age-wise and I was the only one with a high school diploma – everyone else was still in school. We also had different interests: some were really interested in famous people, others in local sports. We worked inclusively this way and covered a wide range of topics," he said.
The game has a built-in control panel that allows it to continually add and update content. It also enables it to respond to sociopolitical developments and can be adapted to events such as workshops.
In future, the Family and Childhood Protection Society (FCPS) – a long-standing DW Akademie MIL partner in Jordan – will take over the app’s maintenance and its further development and possibly involve other partners from the region.
Between January and March 2023 the app had been downloaded more than 700 times. To understand how it was being received by young users, DW Akademie organized a test workshop together with the local project manager, Hanadi Gharaibeh. Seventeen participants between the ages of 16 and 27 took part in the event, which was held at the Shaddah youth center in Amman. Important feedback from the participants included: "We learned more about news and critical thinking and are now more aware of how to consume news."
Majdoleen Al Khateeb, President of the Al Wasatiya Youth Center for Girls, was enthusiastic about the positive reactions to the game. "There was a sense of passion and competition among the young players, and they could see themselves becoming journalists. They felt inspired to start their own platforms where they could publish verified content and take action against fake news."
Although the game has enjoyed initial success, Hazem and his colleagues have additional plans. "We were thrilled at first because our ideas had been turned into an app and we were proud of what we’d achieved. But we later thought we hadn't done enough to raise attention about the issue, to reach people of all ages and to keep them interested. We've thought about how to further develop the idea, for example by using robots, artificial intelligence or interactive panels in public places like shopping malls, in order to engage with people. The app serves its purpose, but it won’t be enough in the long run and we’ll need more activities to reach an even larger audience."
Since developing the app, Hazem said he and the other group members now act differently. "Thanks to the training, we’re like detectives: whenever we hear or see news, we have to check it immediately. We don't take things at face value anymore but instead investigate, verify and try to see if the information is correct."
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Can it take a village for youth to have fun learning Media and Information Literacy? The Guatemalan organization Comunicares says it can and has developed a successful interactive app.