UNESCO Equips Young People to Tackle COVID-19 Disinformation in Eastern Africa

In the wake of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO has supported a series of virtual trainings for young people on how to spot and counter disinformation about the pandemic online and offline in Eastern Africa. These trainings are part of multi-stakeholder efforts to create awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic, and counter the prevailing online mis/disinformation about the pandemic. As part of these efforts, digital platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have also taken steps in dealing with problem, including guidelines and restrictions on posting anti-vaccine information, as well as flagging posts online.

The two days, three-part training sessions were held between the 15th to 30th July 2021, targeting young people across Eastern Africa. They attracted 347 young people (183 men and 164 women) from youth-led organizations, civil society organizations, community centres, community-based organizations, colleagues and universities in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, and Seychelles. They were conducted by Africa Centre for People, Institutions and Society in close partnership with Search for Common Ground, UNESCO Media and Information Literacy Alliance, with the support of UNESCO through its European Union-funded project, as part of the #CoronavirusFacts project to address the ‘disinfodemic’ on COVID-19.

The trainings equipped young people with competencies and knowledge on media and information literacy, tackling mis/disinformation about COVID-19 pandemic within their local communities, centres, groups, organizations, and practical skills to ensure their own online safety and security.

During the training, Mr. Kenneth Okwaroh, the Executive Director, Africa Center for People, Institutions and Society, acknowledged the important role of young people in digital platforms.

He further reiterated UNESCO continuous efforts towards equipping young women and men with requisite skills that they can use and transfer to their organizations or associations and be able to ensure that factual, accurate and verifiable information is accessed, disseminated and utilized among their local communities.

The virtual trainings were based on modules adapted from the UNESCO Media and Information Literacy (MIL) curricula, UNESCO New Media and Information Literate Citizens: Think critically, Click Wisely (Second Edition of the Model MIL Curriculum for Educators and Learners), and the practical experiences of journalists working in mainstream media across Eastern Africa. The modules covered during the trainings included: i) Information disorder – shapes and forms, impacts of democracy and challenges of addressing information disorder, ii) Verification – reviewing sources and content online, utilizing MIL to combat disinformation and online content verification tools, iii) Fact-checking 101, iv) Role of mainstream media in tackling fake news, and v) Combating online abuse.

The participants were also taken through utilization of online content verification tools such as Twitter account analysis, YouTube data viewer and Google Reverse Image Search to tackle disinformation about COVID-19 pandemic.

At the end of the training, several participants expressed enthusiasm about the newly acquired knowledge and skills.

Mr. John Okande called for responsible citizenship among young people with abilities to identify and debunk false information and myths from their communities about COVID-19 and ongoing vaccination initiatives, as part of the broader initiatives to tackle the pandemic in Eastern Africa.

Enhancing Media and Information Literacy (MIL) competencies among youth organizations and other stakeholders is a key action of UNESCO strategy to promote knowledge societies and foster the development of free, independent and pluralistic media and universal access to information and knowledge for good governance. These series of training were part of efforts by UNESCO aimed at strengthening community media policy and practice and empowering the youth through MIL in Eastern Africa.


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