F. Durach, P. Dobrescu, L. Radu

National University of Political Studies and Public Administration (ROMANIA)
Our paper focuses on one of the newest challenges for the education system: the design and implementation of proper interventions as a response to the proliferation of fake news and online disinformation in the digital ecosystem. It is our main argument that, for the success of media literacy interventions, we must first understand what aspects of the audience’s digital behavior increases the vulnerability to disinformation.

The European Commission included media and information literacy (MIL) among the most sought-after solutions in dealing with online communication disorders. Defined as the capacity of the audience to use and interact with the media, and to assess its contents in a critical manner, MIL enables citizens to understand the new information environment of the digital age and to take more informed decisions, reducing their vulnerability to disinformation. Raising awareness and improving societal resilience is one of the four pillars of the EU’s Action Plan to counter disinformation in Europe, and one main way to reach this objective is through MIL interventions for all ages.

Reflecting on the increased relevance of the topic, we provide an overview of the extant research on the efficiency of MIL interventions in general, and for building resilience to fake news in particular. In the main part of the paper, we discuss the importance of understanding what characteristics of the digital behavior increase vulnerability to disinformation, and we advocate the need to specifically address this issue in future MIL interventions. We support our claim with recent findings on the essential role of unaware social media users (not trolls, bots or algorithms, as one would expect) in the large-scale spread of online disinformation. There are several ways in which humans can unwilling help spread disinformation, including: the tendency to consume more news online that in traditional settings, a reliance on cognitive shortcuts or cognitive biases in evaluating information, isolation in online echo-chambers filled with like-minded individuals, behaviors leading to selective exposure, and many more.

In the empirical section, we turn to recent surveys, reports and analyses from reputable sources, such as the European Commission and other relevant organizations that provide insightful information on the digital behavior of the citizens. By means of secondary data analysis, we identify recent world-wide, European, and national trends in consuming, sharing and commenting news within the social media ecosystem, and we assess perceptions related to fake news, online opinion polarization and trust in media. Lastly, we seek to identify best practices in designing MIL interventions to correct the digital behavior of online users with respect to disinformation sharing.