Cambodia’s population is growing, with almost half of Cambodians aged younger than 25. Two media literacy projects are teaching youth how to recognize disinformation and participate in public discourse.
Like many young people around the world today, Duch Utdom grew up using the internet and social media. He can navigate the web with ease. As a window to the world, his online activities partly influenced his decision to major in international relations at Paññasastra University in Cambodia, where he has been a student since 2018.
But somewhere along the way, it occurred to Utdom that what he was seeing and reading online may not be real or true. This was especially true after he enrolled in a Campus Media course, organized together with DW Akademie in cooperation with the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) and with support from the European Union.
Although Campus Media may sound like an introductory college class, students learn about awareness, access and action when it comes to information, leading to an in-depth understanding of potential disinformation. Students also learn hands-on how to produce their own media content for both traditional and social media. The program is available to 80 students, chiefly of Paññasastra University, until the end of 2022.
"Before the class, I didn't know how to believe what I saw or heard on social media," said Utdom. "Sometimes I would just read the title and share it, without verification. I see now that this behavior has to change because it affects both me as well as society at large."
In completing the training, Utdom created a video on the impact of phone usage among young people. The experience left such an impression on him that he is now learning to become a trainer himself.
Cambodia's population and economy have grown rapidly in recent years, but many rural areas remain impoverished, and young people there often feel excluded from public life and national discourse. With nearly half of the population younger than 25, youth participation in the country's civic matters and democratic process is critical to Cambodia's future.
Chenda Horn, a Campus Media trainer who is also a social media officer and citizen journalism trainer with CCIM, said young Cambodians receive little media guidance at school, leaving them mostly unable to recognize disinformation.
One of the dilemmas, she said, is that "there is often no clear source for what is posted online." She noted that some of her trainees have not only benefited from what she's taught them but have also gone on to work as news reporters or in other media-related jobs.
DW Akademie and CCIM also cooperate on another MIL project in Cambodia: the Media 101 Clubs, which are geared to Cambodian university students with increased access to online and social media.
Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) the Media 101 Clubs "give students a chance to discuss, learn from each other and create media products, such as photos, and videos," said Thorsten Karg, one of DW Akademie’s project managers for Cambodia. "The students like this practical approach."
The MIL Club curriculum is 20 sessions, 90 minutes each, and covers aspects of traditional and social media. Since 2018, seven groups of students have completed the trainings and more than 130 students have graduated from the Media 101 Club.
Lida Art, who is in the sixth cohort of young participants in Media 101, said that her schooling in Cambodia's rural Kandal province did not include technology or media literacy. She thinks both might have helped her understand how critical online safety is.
"I have noted some strategies to clarify whether what I’m reading is true," she said. "I check the date and the professionalism of the writing, such as whether the writer has used the 4Ws and the H (who, what, where, when, and how). I also understand more about protecting accounts from hackers, updating my accounts for privacy and how to stay safe."
Similarly, Sea Vannary, a fellow Media 101 participant, said she now pays closer attention when she's online, surveying the date of an article's publication, the authors, how they structured the story and the writing style. She also looks carefully for grammatical errors. Moreover, with her interest in photography, Media 101 helped her improve her own photo-taking skills.
"Media 101 taught me about looking for a good view," she said. "I've also learned about good video storytelling. Media can teach us a lot about our lives."