Canada must get serious on media literacy: advocate

Ottawa –

As federal parties adjust the scope of investigations into foreign interference, Canada’s media literacy charity says governments and schools need to do better to prevent hostile states from manipulating their citizens. .

“We’re going to need a media-savvy public,” said Matthew Johnson, education director for MediaSmart, a nonprofit that aims to improve Canadians’ critical thinking.

“Whatever the source of disinformation, which of course includes foreign interference, digital media literacy is truly the first and last line of defense.”

As Alberta’s wildfires peaked in May, images of wildfires from the past few years went viral on Twitter, along with false claims that entire towns were devastated. That same month, fake images of the Pentagon on fire circulated, along with fabricated claims that an explosion had taken place in Washington.

These two claims can easily be disproved by a simple Google search such as reverse image search. But Johnson found both widely amplified, arguing that this showed how easily foreign powers could destroy Canadian democracy.

Former Special Rapporteur on Foreign Interference David Johnston said before his resignation that the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency accused foreign countries of spreading “disinformation and divisive content” that influenced how citizens voted, or that the public voted. He warned that he was concerned about discouraging them. .

“Our democracy and media openness also make it an ideal arena for foreign powers who seek to disrupt our democratic process, often using social media and other media technology,” the former governor said. Said in the only public report.

In recent months, the Canadian news agency had to warn viewers about fabricated screenshots purporting to be from articles published by the agency. Other news outlets have issued similar warnings about false reports related to last year’s “Freedom Convoy” coronavirus protests.

Johnson, a media graduate, testified about the need for media literacy at a February committee meeting on foreign interference, but lawmakers were primarily concerned with allies and Canada that have expelled Chinese diplomats or started registering foreign agents. Emphasis was placed on comparing

“People want quick solutions, but without digital media literacy, solutions are slow,” says Johnson.

He said Canada should look to the country on how to deal with its bad guys and how to actively woo its citizens against foreign narratives.

Johnson said Nordic countries have long incorporated critical thinking and media literacy into their national curricula, partly because of Russia’s decades-long attempts to destabilize neighboring democracies. pointed out that there is

Schoolchildren in Finland are taught how to assess the veracity of news reports and acquire skills such as recognizing malicious arguments on a par with grammar and reading comprehension. The country’s public broadcasters produce daily news content aimed at elementary and high school students.

A similar program exists in Sweden to step up the fight against disinformation targeting adults. Last year, the military launched a psychological defense agency to analyze disinformation and suggest countermeasures.

Create a report on Chinese intervention in a Swedish municipality and use it for journalists to prevent manipulation attempts, such as those who bring you fake articles and hate-mail campaigns to discourage reporting on specific topics. Created a handbook.

The agency is also trying to lure Swedes with deepfakes, which use artificial intelligence to create inauthentic content that looks real, such as videos of politicians speaking.

Prime Minister Johnson said Canada should strengthen tools for both children and adults.

Canadian schools once emphasized media literacy as part of many cultural policies aimed at keeping American broadcasts from overwhelming them. This included an educational program run by the National Film Board in the early 1980s. MediaSmarts is now the independent successor to the program that the Board started in 1994.

These shows aim to teach Canadian youth that media is not a simple reflection of reality, but a construct based on conscious and unconscious choices made by multiple people, Johnson said. said. This approach helped prepare people to decipher the mass media message, he said.

However, while the Internet has made communication interactive and made it much easier for people to exchange content, it has also raised privacy concerns. In Ontario, that reality will be reflected in the new curriculum for September language classes, last updated in 2006.

“In fact, we often do not update curricula to reflect the central role of media, especially in children’s lives,” he says.

Children today are being raised in the digital age. “They’ve learned not to trust anything they read online,” Johnson said. “The problem is they don’t trust anything.”

He argued that Ottawa should have national standards for media literacy in school curricula that states can follow on a voluntary basis, similar to existing federal standards for sexual health education.

This standard could include tools for identifying authoritative sources of information.

“Disinformation is very often true information presented in a misleading context, such as a genuine photograph presented as if it were from a different time and place than it actually is.” said he.

“Knowing how to use fact-checking tools is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to see if a claim has already been verified or debunked.”

Older generations need to “forget” their instinct to reflexively trust what they read, said Johnson, an era when credible news outlets and governments had little leeway to get their message across. said to be derived from

“It quickly turned out to be a more reliable source than the pamphlets copied from the newspaper,” he said.

Today, websites founded by conspiracy theorists can be designed to be as trustworthy as longtime news outlets.

In 2019, MediaSmart launched its “Break the Fake” campaign, citing a ’90s television ad warning children not to be tricked into believing the existence of the North American “house hippopotamus.”

The platform is aimed at adults and offers guides and quizzes on how to spot fake news through methods such as using fact-checking sites and finding the original sources of claims.

Ottawa funds similar types of programs but does not issue curriculum guidance or tailored strategies. Instead, discussions at Parliament Hill have focused on broad regulation of the content Canadians can access online, including possible restrictions on hate speech.

Johnson said voters need to get into the habit of reflecting on the sources they encounter, especially emotionally charged content that aligns with their assumptions and political worldview.

“It’s important to apply critical thinking to your own way of thinking and ask yourself, ‘How am I biased and what might legitimately change my mind?'” he said. .

This report by the Canadian Press Agency was first published on July 16, 2023.

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