Media literacy and the ability to distinguish disinformation or fake messages play a significant importance in the information era where data, judgements and different interpretations are everywhere.These skills are not less important during an infodemic – a rapid spread of pace and scale of false information due to the outbreak of COVID-19. We should not forget that media literacy and the ability to distinguish false information are an important factor of security during an information warfare.
For example, one of the most large-scale and longest-running researches regarding the level of media literacy among Ukrainians is an annual survey by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and an international civil society organization Internews entitled «Media Consumption Survey». This survey has been carried out since 2015 and has the goal to provide a comprehensive coverage on Ukrainians’ attitude towards mass media given aspects of media literacy and the ability to distinguish disinformation. Therefore, this survey is the most suitable to track the dynamics of the level of media literacy and skills to distinguish fake messages, especially during 2020 and 2021 when ,at first, there was the infordemic regarding COVID-19 in Ukraine and in the world. As for now, this infodemic is about vaccination against coronavirus.
A comparison between the USAID-Internews surveys of 2020 and 2021 regarding population’s attitude towards media and the consumption of different types of media shows that Ukrainians really got more media literate. First of all, this is evident concerning the fact that the population started to pay more attention to who is an owner of a certain media. For instance, if in 2020 13% of respondents (the sample comprises 1630 persons) paid attention that mass media belonged to a certain person, then in 2021 there are 16% of such respondents (the sample has 1600 persons). The same goes for the awareness about hidden advertising in media. For example, in 2020, 77% of respondents knew about the existence of hidden advertising and in 2021 83% of respondents know about “jeansa”(hidden advertisement). This will contribute to better resilience against manipulations and more conscious consumption of content.
The situation with the ability to distinguish false information or disinformation is a little bit more complicated. If in 2020 77% of respondents knew that there was disinformation, then in 2021 this indicator increased to 83%. Meanwhile, the relevance of an issue regarding false information also increased. For instance, in 2020 35% of respondents noted that this issue was relevant and in 2020 40% of respondents did so. However there is a difficulty in comparing the practical ability of Ukrainian to distinguish disinformation. The statistic is as follows: in 2020 only 3% of respondents within the sample of 1225 persons managed to correctly define if all three messages were true or false. These pieces of information were related to COVID-19, “corruption” in the government and relations between Ukraine and Russia. In 2021, 24% of respondents within the sample of 1320 people correctly distinguished all three messages which were about a separatists’ fake on the death of a child due to the use of a drone by Ukrainian soldiers; 5G towers and a vaccine against COVID-19. In particular, the difficulty regarding the comparison lies in the fact that messages of 2020 and 2021 are about different topics. That is why the audience may be better in distinguishing disinformation in one sort of topic and worse in dealing with other kind of topics. For instance, in 2020, a message about “corruption” in government was correctly distinguished by 13% of respondents or 135 persons out of 1225. This was the case due to the low level of trust to authorities in general.
In addition, one of the most positive moments of comparing practical ability of Ukrainians to distinguish disinformation is a significant decrease in percentages of those who were unable to choose an answer. For example, in 2020 there were 29%% of such respondents and 2021 - 7%. This indicates both an increase in the relevance of the issue of false messages that has been mentioned above and better confidence in one’s abilities to distinguish disinformation. Therefore, we can note that Ukrainians’ ability to distinguish false information has improved but in certain spheres including disinformation on the part of militants from the temporarily occupied territories. At the same time, information related to COVID-19 is still quite difficult regarding marking it true or false due to the fatigue that this issue is permanently present in the media environment.
So it is worth highlighting that Ukrainians got more media literate and resilient to disinformation in 2021 compared to 2020. The biggest progress was evident in the ability to distinguish a true message from a false one. This is the first step to improve practical skills of media literacy and distinguishing disinformation.Therefore, the team of iDemocracy recommends to develop one’s competences in the sphere of media literacy and countering disinformation. You can do this by making yourself acquainted with such educational courses as «Very Verified: online course on media literacy» by IREX, «Fact Check: Trust and Check» by VoxUkraine as well as «Disinformation: types, tools and countermeasures» by Ukraine Crisis Media Center available at Prometheus, the educational platform. The development of skills regarding media literacy and distinguishing disinformation will help to get more resilient to information influences and will contribute to the overall resilience of a society in information, communication and digital domains. This will make Ukraine more resilient and ready for any possible challenges in the future.