One of the biggest topics of late 2016 was “fake news”, or how to spot a lie on the internet.
This is not a new problem: before the many bullshit statements of a certain president-elect, there was the Syrian Electronic Army’s hijacking of Twitter accounts to spread misinformation. But things did ramp up in the last 12 months, and South Africans were just as likely to be targeted by provocative but untrue headlines as anyone else.
Part of the problem is that people just don’t know that they can’t believe everything they read on the internet. Instinctively, we like to believe the written word is true. But how do you fact check a story if you’re a newcomer to the online world from a developing country, who interacts with the web mostly via the closed garden of Facebook?
Because that’s exactly the issue the next billion or so people who come online will face. And amplifying the problem is the fact that almost all digital literacy courses, books and “driving tests” are based on the assumption that new users will be sitting in front of a PC.
At least, that’s what activists and academics from the Technology & Social Change Group and the Henry M Jackson School of International Studies think. And to help tackle that problem they’ve put together a free six module course which educators and international development practitioners can use or adapt which looks at digital literacy from the point of view of a mobile phone user.
It’s a great idea, frankly. Modern smartphones are deceptively simple to use, and while that’s good for adoption, it’s not great for encouraging users to think critically about what they see and read.
We already know that people in developing countries are more likely to take things like advertising claims at face value, because they don’t generally have the same history of consumer activism. According to this report from Nielsen, around 50% or fewer Europeans trust advertising through any channel (and they trust online the least) while two thirds to three quarters of people in Africa and the Middle East say they trust ads.
If you want to have a look at it, the full course on Mobile Information Literacy is here and I’d encourage you to read Wayan Vota’s write-up at ICTWorks.org. From Wayan’s blog, it looks like the course has been developed around usage in Myanmar, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be used – say – in a township library or classroom here.
In countries and contexts like Myanmar, where for many using a mobile phone marks their first experience with the Internet and digital technology, these training materials can be used by various organizations, such as libraries and NGOs, to both train their staff and to build knowledge, skills, and mobile information literacy competencies within the populations they serve.
In Myanmar the materials have been translated into Burmese, and master training sessions have been conducted to train library staff to further train their colleagues, as well as library patrons. Our partners in Myanmar have also conducted training sessions at the Ministry of Information.