Though democracy can look a little different in practice in different parts of the world, there are certain cornerstones we come across again and again in strong, resilient societies. A reverence and respect for the voice of the people, for instance; a commitment to justice and equality. But just as important, as we’ve learned first-hand over the past few years, is strong media literacy.
Misinformation and disinformation are spreading at an alarming pace, aided by digital formats and social media. Facebook has spent years boasting about its power to connect — but the platform is now facing extreme criticism (and even potential litigation) for its undeniable role in spreading misinformation and extremism.
It’s not just about getting facts right or wrong. Misinformation can genuinely undermine democracy and endanger lives. In the case of COVID-19 or the Ebola virus, for instance, the spread of false information can actually lead to the spread of disease and death.
Teachers, librarians, and governments are all tackling this pressing issue in various ways, but they can’t do it alone. Tech companies will (and do!) play a critical role in the fight against misinformation and fake news. And as the problem intensifies, businesses will need to step up even more.
I’m proud that Pressreader, alongside our global partners, is uniquely positioned as a part of this important fight during the pandemic. Working closely with publishers, libraries, and business partners (including hospitality, aviation and healthcare brands), we’ve armed our readers with fact-checking information to combat misinformation and promote the consumption of reputable journalism. Most recently we launched a media literacy campaign that we encourage other tech firms to join.
Here’s what we learned during the pandemic, that’s helping us pave the way for an even deeper push for media literacy going forward.
Empowerment starts with access
PressReader has always collaborated with a global network of publishers, professional media, and libraries to distribute fact-checking information. It meant that, as the COVID-19 situation evolved rapidly — and misinformation spread just as fast — we were able to quickly gather our existing resources and launch COVID-19 News: a daily collection of global news stories from most trusted media outlets to keep readers around the world informed while staying safe.
Later, when hotels opened their doors to healthcare workers and supported communities by creating containment zones, PressReader decided to bear the cost to keep hotels connected. When cruise ships were stranded at sea, we helped quarantined passengers and crew keep in touch with news from shore. On dry land, we worked with over one hundred Canadian library systems to make PressReader available in hundreds of their branches. As library foot traffic decreased during lockdowns across the world, these partnerships gave libraries the means to continue connecting their patrons with vetted, trusted news content.
Trusted information is crucial during times of crisis
There’s a hunger for trusted information — and during the pandemic, that interest has only grown. Back in January 2020, our users read about 350K articles about health on PressReader. Fast-forward to March 2020, and that number jumped to over 1.4M.
Not only was there high readership for stories on COVID-19, but topics such as mental health and relationships began to climb in our analytics. Entertainment and sports content similarly increased, as readers sought an escape from the doom-and-gloom of the daily news. It’s all compelling evidence that there is a hunger for trusted news and content, not just fear-mongering clickbait.
Global sources build empathy and perspective
We also found that during the global pandemic, people weren’t just seeking local news, but global information as well. Through our reader consumption analysis, we learned that readers were keenly interested in how other countries were faring — for instance, a Canadian reader exploring stories about COVID-19 in Singapore, South Korea, Italy, and the U.K.
Offering access to global news sources isn’t just a helpful tool during a pandemic, however. It’s a crucial piece in creating media-literate citizens. The sharing of international news helps us gain empathy and perspective of our fellow human beings as they face their own successes and challenges.
Providing readers with access to high-quality information is one of the most powerful ways to combat fake news. Importantly, these aren’t just soundbites, and summaries of press conferences: our catalog includes the most trustworthy sources about the virus and crisis from around the globe, with expert analyses, opinions, and interviews.
The pandemic is far from over, and the misinformation crisis — an epidemic in its own way — will carry on, too. We encourage the tech sector to take advantage of our unique tools, resources, and networks to join the fight against misinformation and empower our community. As a first step today, check out and share our Knowledge is Power media literacy campaign, a direct campaign advocating for education. Tech companies can, and should, serve a higher purpose. Let’s fight misinformation and promote media literacy together, for our community and for the generations to come.
Media Literacy Week is celebrated in Canada, the U.S. and also by UNESCO in late October or early November each year.