Learning from Russia’s Other Media War
With the global proliferation of fake news threatening democratic institutions, "media literacy" training is more important than ever. Gains made by consumers on the front lines of Russia’s propaganda war with Ukraine demonstrate that with practice, it is possible to navigate the fog of a post-truth world.
WASHINGTON, DC – Misinformation and propaganda have been around for as long as mass communication. What has changed is the speed and scale of the delivery. Social media platforms have intensified the spread of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, threatening democratic institutions in frightening new ways. One only has to Google “Russia” and “Trump” to see the impact of so-called fake news on democracy. But the best way to fight disinformation may be to follow the example set by Ukraine, a country that has faced its own barrage of Russian-funded deceit.
Around the world, people who believe that facts still matter are fighting back. US news organizations are fortifying their positions by emphasizing core journalistic practices such as source verification and fact checking. Independent verifiers and fact checkers have also become important resources for the public.
But as the line between news producer and consumer blurs, it is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate the swamp of misinformation. While a number of new initiatives – such as the News Literacy Project’s Checkology training courses, and Factitious, an online game that tests users’ ability to identify fake news – are trying to bolster the public’s filtering capacity, the impact has so far been limited. Owing to confirmation bias, exposure to concepts that conflict with ingrained beliefs may entrench assumptions, rather than leading us to revise them. And, in a media landscape where even politicians rely on data mining and neuroscience to craft messages based on voters’ state of mind, it is hard to separate truth from falsehood.