A "Myth Detector Lab" in Georgia is teaching youth how to debunk myths and identify propaganda in the media. Alumni from the program have produced more than 250 fact-checking articles.
Russian government attempts to influence information are not always straightforward in Georgia and Georgian media consumers are often sceptical towards Kremlin-sponsored media outlets.
The major sources of disinformation are often Georgian language fringe media outlets that incite hate speech, demonize the West and attempt to create tensions between ethnic and religious minorities and ethnic Georgians. Some media outlets with explicit hateful editorial policies are also affiliated with Russia.
In certain cases, ownership of a newly emerging media platforms are hidden and a deflective source model is applied. Western media brands with Georgian domains like foxnews.ge, euronews.ge or the Guardian with minor spelling mistakes are used to legitimize fake news and demonize the West.
The truth behind the lies
In 2014 when the Media Development Foundation launched its fact-checking web-site www.mythdetector.ge, the goal was to inform the audience about the truth behind the lies, to explore who is behind hidden political agendas and to identify the aim of intentionally disseminated misinformation. After gaining experience in fact-checking and creating substantial case studies illustrating various propaganda methods, revealing instances of the deflective source model, the Myth Detector editorial team decided to develop a media literacy program and platform for sharing knowledge with young people.
The idea was to develop a program that allowed students to not only gain knowledge in media literacy through trainings but to put the newly learned knowledge into practice during an internship supported by DW Akademie. The overall goal of the project, launched in 2017, is to respond to the challenges disinformation presents by preparing media consumers to consume media content wisely thus strengthening media literacy, promoting critical thinking and enhancing tools to distinguish quality media products from manipulative content among youth.
'Discover truth yourself'
We’ve launched the Myth Detector Lab under the motto: "Discover truth yourself!" The idea was to equip young people with the necessary skills to identify fabricated content, deconstruct it, track the transparency of sources and produce their own media content. Our verification approach consists of four stages: identify, deconstruct, track transparency of sources and explain what propaganda methods were used.
Myth Detector Lab participants come from mainly non-journalist backgrounds and are selected through an open call application process. Selected young participants participate in a 3.5-month program in media literacy on a weekly basis, which provides knowledge on the role and function of media in democratic societies, media ethics, transparency and accountability of media and verification tools and skills needed for the production of multimedia content for self-expression.
The internship gives students the opportunity to produce fact-checking articles and multimedia content, and at the end of the program there is a competition to reveal the students’ best multimedia content. Prepared materials are evaluated by a special jury, which selects the four best entries for each group. The main award for the winner is an invitation to participate in the annual Global Media Forum (GMF) in Bonn, Germany.
Over the last three years, 109 students have gone through the Myth Detector Lab, and they have produced 256 fact checking articles and 46 multimedia stories. Their findings were often included in European Union’s website EUvsDisinfo and most importantly, after completion of the program, Lab alumni have continued to be active in the digital space both online and offline, either debunking fake content or initiating complaints against media in self-regulation formats. They became multipliers of information and are promoting media literacy outside of the Myth Detector Lab classrooms.
Tamar Kintsurashvili is the executive director of the Media Development Foundation Georgia (MDF) and a member of the Media and Information Literacy Expert Nework (MILEN).