Fighting Misinformation: Digital Media Literacy

Course No. 5043
Taught By Multiple Professors
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Course No. 5043
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Distinguish between misinformation and disinformation, and learn about several types of problematic content.
  • numbers Explore the ways in which the internet has made us all publishers of information, and practice the techniques necessary to take responsibility for truth and information validity in this technological age.
  • numbers Study the history and evolution of media, and understand the ways in which the human brain pre-disposes us all to fall victim to misinformation.
  • numbers Look critically at visual media, reflecting on the ways in which it is selected, edited, reframed, and even manipulated to deceive and distort.
  • numbers Use the same strategies that journalists employ to fact check and verify media information, then apply the principles of Label to Disable" and "Care before You Share" to protect yourself and others from the negative effects of misinformation."

Course Overview

Have no doubt: The threat of misinformation is real. It has been used intentionally by those who would sow ignorance, division, and discord; it has been repeated unintentionally by those unprepared to critically analyze the media around them. With this course, you can better discern false information and slow its spread in your own community. But the first step in stopping the spread of misinformation lies with you—and, as you’ll learn, it’s not as complicated as you might think.

Americans spend hundreds, even thousands, of hours a week engaging with a wide range of media sources—TV, computers, tablets, radios, MP3 players, cell phones, newspapers, magazines, books, and more. Through these, we constantly access a wide range of platforms and media, from news to novels to Twitter feeds to email, and much more. Because we are continuously taking in information from a variety of sources, we are under constant threat from those who would intentionally (or accidentally) misinform—from foreign operatives, advertisers, politicians, and general scammers to our own friends and family. We all experience a near-constant barrage of incoming information. Combine that with the human brain’s reaction to stress or fear, and conditions are ripe for the spread of misinformation.

To better prepare you to defuse this threat, IREX (International Research & Exchanges Board) has teamed up with The Great Courses to provide a guide for navigating this tricky landscape with Fighting Misinformation: Digital Media Literacy, an eight-lecture course designed to arm you with the skills you need to be a savvy media consumer. Tara Susman-Peña, a senior technical advisor, and her colleagues at IREX, Mehri Druckman and Nina Oduro, will lead you step by step through the history, evolution, science, and impact of misinformation, helping you to develop the skills you need to combat fakes, stereotypes, and frauds within every kind of media source.

What Is Misinformation?

Using media technology, disinformation and propaganda have been shared by various political powers and individual agents to sow confusion and discord in populations around the world. For example, a campaign in the Ukraine begun in 2013 by the Kremlin has led to frustration, anger, and cynicism among the Ukrainian people, ultimately advancing Russian political designs on Ukrainian territories. But Ukraine has not been the only victim of systematic and intentional misinformation cyberattacks: Elections in the United States—and other nations around the world—have been seriously impacted by foreign interference through the spread of unverified and misleading information.

In this dynamic course, you will learn from media and misinformation experts about the falsehoods, slander, prejudice, and bad ideas that fall under the umbrella terms of disinformation and misinformation. Specifically, you will:

  • Distinguish between the terms misinformation and disinformation, and understand how the creator’s intentions impact each;
  • Learn the types of problematic content, or misinformation, including satire/parody, false connection, false context, misleading/imposter/manipulated/fabricated content, hate speech, and propaganda;
  • Consider examples of particularly pernicious and prevalent misinformation in the United States today, and explore the very real dangers to public health and safety associated with each;
  • Exercise your critical-thinking skills to develop crucial skills to apply to the information you encounter every day;
  • Learn how to determine when a source can be trusted, and how to compare and contrast sources that are trustworthy with those that are not;
  • Change your information-consumption habits to ensure you are engaging with trustworthy sources; and
  • Build your emotional resilience, so you are less easily swayed by appeals to emotion when you encounter information that seeks to manipulate you.

The way our brains naturally function, unfortunately, makes us particularly vulnerable to misinformation. As you explore these topics and more, the educators at IREX will lead you through a deeper understanding of the human brain and its chemical response to stress. At the very moment when we are most anxious or fearful, our brains cut out any extraneous information, narrowing our focus on survival. This reduced capacity can inhibit our ability to discern inaccuracies or falsehoods in the information we are receiving. This can be doubly true when the information itself is alarming. Is there any way to slow down and refocus our attention on the details that might help us critically appraise the media we consume? Yes, and this course will show you how.

How to Verify Information

Quality journalism is based on facts and truth, but the media can be full of opinions masquerading as fact. Learn the skills that good journalists employ—steps like cross-checking and lateral reading—to guarantee that their audience has access to the most current, accurate information available. Also, explore the ways in which you, personally, can use a variety of websites, browsers, and applications to check and recheck the stories, images, and data crossing your path.

IREX has developed a set of procotols which can, when used in tandem, stop the spread of dangerous and damaging misinformation. Starting with “Label to Disable,” a simple, three-step process that can help you support the rational-thinking skills of your brain when you come across provocative information and build your emotional resilience to the effects of misinformation. This step is then followed up with a process that adds personal responsibility to everything you pass along, known as “Care before You Share.” These protocols can help you in the face of rapidly changing techological innovation, helping you to stem the tide of falsehoods and propaganda.

By learning how experts verify information—and building a toolbox of skills you can apply to the news and rumors you encounter every day—you will be better prepared to evaluate what you encounter and feel more confident in determining what is fact and what is fiction.

Threat of Misinformation in Science and Health

Misinformation in science and health can be especially destructive, leading to substantial ecological damage and major public health emergencies. The nature of science as a rapidly changing and often uncertain field can make science and health news seems particularly confusing. How can you bring a critical eye to what you read and see in the fields of health and science? How can you avoid inaccurate or blatantly false information that can cause serious harm to you or those you love? IREX begins by using the first steps of the scientific method.

By employing the open-minded, curious, and discerning methodologies employed by scientists, you can learn to develop and test hypotheses and use clear evidence to support the conclusions you reach about health and science issues.

All of these vital lessons will help you determine whether what you are reading or seeing is worthy of believing and sharing with your friends, family, and community. Recognizing the dangers posed from misinformation; working to verify what we are seeing, reading, and hearing; and taking responsibility for only passing along those things that we have carefully vetted, we become a part of the solution.

Evolution of Convincing Lies

It sometimes seems impossible to keep up with the pace of technological innovation. Just as each day brings us access to new and exciting advances in information sharing, so, too, does the rapidly changing world of technology pose endless new risks to information accuracy. As Ms. Susman-Peña and her colleagues point out, technology is a tool and “…every exciting new resource that can solve a problem also has the potential to be appropriated in harmful ways.”

There is a misinformation arms race underway. Those who would spread misinformation for political, social, or economic gain find new ways to spread lies and discord all the time. Although some of the finest minds in the world are working to stop the spread of misinformation, the most important work must be done at the individual and community levels.

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8 lectures
 |  Average 26 minutes each
  • 1
    The Misinformation Threat
    Democracy depends on a well-informed, discerning electorate, equipped to judge the validity of the information available. In this first lecture, Ms. Susman-Peña and her esteemed colleagues at IREX delve into the concepts of misinformation and disinformation, and explain the critical ways in which falsehoods, slander, prejudice, and bad ideas can threaten American democracy. x
  • 2
    The Evolution of Media and Misinformation
    Options for news sources have expanded exponentially in the digital age. Content is at our fingertips from traditional news sources, but anyone can now be a publisher of information on the internet, and computer algorithms are influencing what you see every day. How do we sort the legitimate news from false, misleading, or opinion content? Travel with your instructors through the history of communication technology as you learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. x
  • 3
    Misinformation and the Brain
    Humans often fail to critically evaluate the world around us. Take a close look at the machinations of misinformation, and how it can be used in conjunction with our natural cognitive biases to lead us astray. Learn about the role of reality distortion, the “Barnum effect,” selective recall, and confirmation bias in misinformation, and how techniques like “Label to Disable” and “Care before You Share” can help. x
  • 4
    Seeing Through Visual Misinformation
    Visual images have been selected, edited, reframed—even manipulated—before they reach us, often in ways designed to elicit an emotional response. Explore the impact of reuse and mislabeling, photo selection effect, and deliberate alteration or forgery to affect how we see and feel about an image. Then, employ Label to Disable to diffuse the threat of visual misinformation. x
  • 5
    Countering Fakes and Stereotypes in Media
    How do fake information and stereotypes combine to produce an especially damaging type of misinformation? Fake information, including fake social media accounts, fake chat messages, and fake reviews, can infiltrate our electronic lives. See how stereotypes can magnify the damage done by fake information, and consider the difficult questions presented by the human tendency toward bias. x
  • 6
    Journalistic Verification Skills
    Your ability to differentiate between fact and opinion and to judge the quality of media content is vital to a functional democracy. You do not have to go it alone. Learn how the professionals test and verify information, as well as what websites, plug-ins, and tactics can help you determine journalistic integrity and accuracy of information. x
  • 7
    Assessing Science and Health News
    How can we make good decisions about important health and science issues if we cannot trust the news we get about them? Scientific knowledge, by its very nature, is always changing, but using some simple methods described in this segment, you can ascertain the validity of health and science information. x
  • 8
    Technology, Misinformation, and the Future
    The rise of new technology has led to a simultaneous, exponential increase in misinformation—locally, nationally, and even internationally. Learn how artificial intelligence and augmented reality programs are being used to spread misinformation, and how media literacy, Label to Disable, and Care before You Share can be used to combat its spread. x

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Your professors

Tara Susman-Peña Mehri Druckman Nina Oduro

Professor 1 of 3

Tara Susman-Peña

Professor 2 of 3

Mehri Druckman

Professor 3 of 3

Nina Oduro
Tara Susman-Peña leads the adaptation and expansion of Learn to Discern, an IREX media literacy methodology, in the United States and around the world. She trains participants and trainers on how to fight misinformation and conduct audience research. She taught at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and has lectured widely at institutions such as Georgetown University; Columbia...
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Mehri Druckman is a media literacy and training development expert who combines deep knowledge of anti-propaganda programming, effective media support, community engagement, and the application of technology to improve development outcomes with field-tested training methodologies. In 2015, she designed and managed IREX’s innovative Learn to Discern project, a citizen media literacy initiative that reached more than 15,000...
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Nina Oduro develops and facilitates training for young leaders, educators, and community organizers. She is currently a lead trainer for IREX’s Learn to Discern U.S. initiative and supports curriculum design and delivery alongside IREX’s partners. Ms. Oduro developed IREX’s first comprehensive training guide, drawing on 50 years of the organization’s experience with training as well as industry best practices. Using...
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Fighting Misinformation: Digital Media Literacy is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 12.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Limited Value Disappointing. Much motivational speaker psycho-babble. Blaming "psychologists" for lack of critical thinking is taking the easy way out. Using the term "people" so freely is close to stereotyping. Several websites are mentioned without applying their own rules for validation. Case studies are weak. The choice of the"Trudeau disdain" photo (which was a staged photo-op), may be mystifying to Americans without the context of Trudeau's pro-China, anti-US rants and the conflict of interest that is declared, briefly, in a different lecture. (I agree taking a still from a video is a cheap shot, but as I write this, Trudeau is refusing to meet Trump and Mexico's AMLO about USMCA.) The Emma Gonzalez fake photo is a good choice and analysis of more such photos is needed. The discussion on dating and location of source documents is useful but not fully explored. Use of Google for photo search is worrisome in view of earlier comments about search engine bias. The written checklists are too verbose and vague for quick evaluation, not rigourous enough for detailed analysis. Of some value, but particularly as an exercise of "spot the misinformation in this course".
Date published: 2020-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Information very much needed these days I thought I was fairly well equipped to spot misinformation and outright lies but this course has given me valuable tools to dig deeper. Whether it's photos, articles on the web, or television programs, I can do my own fact checking in a snap. I had no idea these tools even existed! Thanks to the ladies for clear explanations, for the computer challenged as well as the fairly experts. I'm particularly grateful for the reference to DuckDuckGo, because I was aware that google's algorithm returned results that google "thought" would please me, but I never knew what to do about that except to page through endless results. The difference is startling. I've even shared a few of these tricks with my friends on Facebook… hope you don't mind! Short but sweet! I'm loving it!
Date published: 2020-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important subject and well covered! I loved this course--I've been recommending it to friends and family. Even though I am a librarian, I learned new tips and tricks for verifying information on the internet. Also, the course is helpful in examining my own biases and how I feel about misinformation I receive. So timely!
Date published: 2020-05-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good as far as it went This course is a well-presented thoughtful review of techniques and resources to allow news consumers to avoid accepting internet-acquired news at face value. The presentations could have benefited from editing to reduce unnecessary repetition. The course could have been more valuable if the presenters had also included examples from the traditional newspapers and television news networks that are equally prone to the same techniques used by internet misinformation sites, such as hyperbole, alarmist headlines and teasers, one-sided reporting, and the long-standing practice of burying corrections. The most valuable elements of the course were the worksheets for evaluating articles and science/health news, although I expect that the large majority of Great Courses viewers likely already use similar processes almost out of habit. As a retired physician, I was pleased to find the strongest presentation was the segment on Health and Science Reporting. The Testing Scientific Validity list of items is a good outline to use when viewing or reading such news reports, as typical newspaper and TV reporting commonly falls into these errors. I will recommend this course to friends who forward dubious items to my inbox. It probably does not contain much new information for the consumer who is already life-long learner. I consider this course average for the Great Courses, but it would be a 5-star presentation on network TV.
Date published: 2020-04-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Informative The course was very informative. It provided quite a few resources available to aid in recognizing and investigating misinformation. It also provided some examples of ways to kick in rational thought when presented with tantalizingly provocative items in the media. I recommend this to anyone who wants to learn why people circulate misinformation and how to spot it.
Date published: 2020-03-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good info I learned that there is a LOT of bad in fo out there
Date published: 2020-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A vital, timely course with actionable solutions I lead student study groups at my local community college. For four years I have helped students to develop tactics for discerning truth from disinformation in relation to news about science, health, and science agencies. The same channels and methods used by snake oil salesmen to fleece the vulnerable have now been employed by those who wish harm to the democratic process both here and abroad. This course compiles and condenses current materials implemented by IREX in its overseas fight to empower educators and citizens against propaganda and other disinformation campaigns. It is presented in a non-partisan way, so as to not scare off those who most need this course. Get it, use it and share it. I have already upgraded some of my own tactics using the suggestions provided, and intend to implement some of the checklists provided in the course book in the study groups I lead. THANK YOU GREAT COURSES, THANK YOU IREX!
Date published: 2020-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative and Engaging This course exceeded my expectations in every way. it was fair, impartial but at the same time hard-hitting and provided very practical advice about how to combat misinformation in the media. What was remarkable about it was that it was not political at all but did not turn away from the tough issues. All three of the professors in this series did an excellent job presenting the material in a way that was very relevant and timely. As a professor myself I intend to use this material to help my students to better evaluate what they read and hear in the media,
Date published: 2020-01-18
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