Most people, especially the younger generation, keep falling prey to disinformation most of which comes from online platforms. The end result is that there is fake news, human trafficking and other numerous scams that have come with technological sophistication.
Every day, we hear stories of fake job opportunities coming from fake online links, fake competitions and many more due to phishing attacks, where you see an email that looks genuine and seems to be coming from a legitimate source or imposter scams where someone sends you an email or calls you as if they are from government, a bank, a family member or someone close to you asking you to send them some money, healthcare scams where you are promised big savings in your health insurance and many more. People have suffered irreversible repercussions upon clicking a fake link.
Fake news also becomes rampant during elections where there is a lot of mudslinging and fake polls aimed at disseminating false information to de-campaign and outdo political opponents. The outcome of the elections is affected because people’s choices are based on the false information meaning that democracy is negatively affected by disinformation.
It is an undeniable fact that disinformation is a vice that brings a lot of negative effects and that it requires solutions. One such solution is robust civic education on online safety so that there is migration from information disorder to information order. People have to be media and information literate. A media and information literate society is one that is able to fight the fake ‘world’. It is a society that verifies the source of information before getting and using it.
National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Public Trust, being the main provider of civic and voter education in Malawi, needs to be alert to the reality of fake news considering the trust that it has accrued over the years. It has the mandate to help people understand the enormity of disinformation and see the need to combat it. NICE has to civic-educate the masses on how democracy is affected by fake news and help people understand that they can use the social media responsibly to make informed choices during elections and demand better services from the elected and other duty bearers.
People should use the online platforms to share and receive information on how they can develop themselves by identifying their problems and seeking solutions to the problems. The social media should help society to participate meaningfully in affairs affecting them. The social media should help to consolidate good governance and democracy by ensuring that there is accessibility, accountability and transparency.
Media and Information Literacy (MIL) is the combination of media literacy and information literacy. Media literacy is the ability to access media, analyze and create media content as well as reflecting on media and acting with media. Information literacy is the ability to interpret and make informed judgments as users of information sources as well as to become producers of information in one’s own right.
Media and Information Literacy (MIL) is defined as a set of competencies that empowers citizens to access, retrieve, understand, evaluate and use, create and share information and media content in all formats, using various tools. MIL fosters critical, ethical and effective personal participation and engagement with media, in both professional and social activities. Media and information literate individuals are better able to understand complex messages from different mediums and outlets. They can also produce media messages themselves.
A deep understanding of media and its influence on society and individuals is a necessary skill for all individuals to have. Media and information literacy skills help people become aware of culture, values, information and communication. Young people especially need opportunities to engage with educators to make sense of their various experiences with mass media, interpersonal media and media technologies. Media and information literacy has become part of the curriculum in schools or universities for various subjects in some countries acknowledging the effective and critical thinking skills that it enhances.
Media and information literacy as a tool for development is recognized by countries around the world, courtesy of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its partners that have been promoting awareness about media and information literacy (MIL) through the Global MIL Week since 2019 when 193 countries unanimously proclaimed Global MIL Week as official at the 40th Session of the UNESCO General Conference. In his message to the world, Moez Chakchouk, then UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, stressed that media and information literacy is key to empowering all peoples.
The Journal of Library and Information Technology of July 2021 makes reference to a research study on MIL by Ejike Udensi Igwebuike that demonstrates the need to promote national unity and integration in Nigeria by proposing the sensitization of the Nigerian citizenry on the dangers of hate speech and remedies that the subject facilitates to produce citizens who would harmoniously work together to build the country.
Media and information literacy helps people and individuals to be well-informed. This includes being able to ask intelligent and meaningful questions on a wide range of vital topics. People should make use of different sources of information and ask critical and relevant questions on governance and developmental issues. If people are well-informed, they are able to identify problems in their community, nation or even worldwide and learn how to solve them or at least be able to identify the relevant duty bearers as well as acceptable ways of engaging them for the sake of individual, community and national development.
This article was authored by NICE Trust and was first published in Malawi's The Nation newspaper dated September 12, 2023