Digital Media Literacy in EDMO Round Table: BECID
This interview is part of the ”Digital Media Literacy in EDMO Round Table’‘ interview series that will be published every month to highlight the work of the 14 EDMO hubs. Conducted by the Media & Learning Association (MLA).
Who are the leading players in the Baltic region (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) when it comes to promoting media literacy?
In the Baltic Region, promoting media literacy is a collective endeavour involving a wide range of participants. Governmental ministries and agencies are at the forefront of this initiative. They have established extensive networks that include various government institutions and representatives from the European Commission.
Universities, schools, kindergartens, and youth centres are key contributors to those networks. Universities offer in-depth knowledge and engage in practical initiatives, while schools and youth centres provide media literacy education through mandatory courses and digital literacy programs. Journalistic and media organisations also play a crucial role, collaborating with educational institutions to create and share educational content with a strong emphasis on fact-checking and misinformation awareness.
In the Baltic countries, smaller NGOs, especially those familiar with the Russian-speaking communities, often have a greater impact on promoting media literacy than larger networks and corporations. Their specialised understanding and cultural insights enable them to effectively address the unique needs of these communities. International telecommunication companies are also crucial in promoting basic internet safety to a broad audience. Their reach and resources make them ideal partners for initiatives aimed at educating large, diverse groups on fundamental aspects of internet safety.
Do you have any idea as to how media-literate people in this region are generally? Are there any types of measures that can be used to assess this over time?
Turbulent histories have made the Balts more resilient to propaganda, but we are not magically immune to disinformation. In the context of information resilience and developing resilience to disinformation narratives, we, of course, have a lot of similarities. But you can already see, even from our demographic composition, that there will be some differences. For example, Estonia and Latvia have quite a high number of Russian-speaking locals, but in Lithuania, it’s less than 5%. Nevertheless, history binds us – anyone who has been part of the USSR looks at propaganda, censorship, and keeping information from the people, in a very different way. It is directly connected to our freedom. Turbulent times in history, for example, have probably made our journalists, security forces, defence experts, and anyone really, more resilient. But the Baltics are definitely not magically immune to disinformation.
When looking at global indicators, we have some reasons to pat ourselves on the back. Estonia is 4th in the 2023 Media Literacy Index (with Latvia 18th and Lithuania 20th). Latvia has climbed the ranks of the Media Freedom Index since 2016, where Lithuania presently ranks 7th, the highest of the three Baltics (with Estonia 8th and Latvia 16th in 2023). As a highly digitalised state, MILs (Media & Information Literacy skills) are necessary in Estonia in order to communicate and acquire services from the state, so our daily lives do not allow us to relax into our seats and treat MIL as a nice-to-have feature. We need MILs to survive.
But it is crucial not to bask in the glory of self-congratulations, as the information sphere is rapidly changing, at a pace where not even the most dedicated of facilitators could not realistically keep producing new materials. We face the issue all EU countries do: after decades of worthwhile projects, how to build sustainable repositories of materials that could be used by teachers in a formal or informal setting without much planning effort? How could we shorten the chain from evidence-based design and research to daily use by MIL facilitators?
We need constant boosters, sustainable projects and regular inoculation against information disorders. Here we also have our governments to thank: societal resilience to disinformation and manipulative foreign narratives should not remain a topic reserved fo the fields of education and research only. MILs of individuals and organisations are also a matter of national security, and we, as MIL facilitators, should be bolder in stating so. No matter the terminology, be it psychological defence, (information) resilience or talks of a cohesive society with high digital competencies, the idea remains: our security forces’ task in a broad open security concept is to educate the public on possible harmful narratives and perpetrators. Our task is to research, design, pilot, and prepare materials and plans to make sure our societies have the necessary skills to withstand informational manipulation or at least know where to check for the accuracy of information. Inoculation against disinformation works very much like inoculation against viruses with vaccines: you might get the best MIL training in high school, but you will need an update quite soon, as the resistance wears off as new strains (or narratives, in this metaphor) appear.
What are the main challenges you face in promoting media literacy in these three countries?
Promoting media literacy in the Baltic region faces several key challenges. A primary issue is the lack of permanent funding, leading to inconsistent outcomes and resource strain due to a reliance on project-based approaches. The region’s ongoing information war, intensified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, further complicates efforts, emphasising the need for effective media literacy programs.
Addressing misinformation narratives from Russia is another critical challenge. While these narratives often span Baltic countries, adapting learning materials to local cultural and linguistic differences is essential, as one-size-fits-all approaches are ineffective. A significant hurdle is engaging the Russian-speaking population, who are more susceptible to Russian misinformation due to linguistic and cultural ties. Tailoring initiatives to this demographic is crucial for countering misinformation.
Establishing effective media literacy networks, such as BECID, is a critical step in this direction. While BECID demonstrates the potential of collaborative efforts among universities, media houses, and non-profits in the Baltics, working with stable funding towards well-defined goals, the creation and launch of BECID have significantly advocated for media literacy and have been broadly integrated with the State’s strategic communication team at the Government Office and various ministries (e.g., MH, MoC, MoI, MoE, and MoF) that have highlighted the development of media literacy in their strategic plans.
What value do you think EDMO and the network of EDMO hubs in particular bring to the challenge of fighting disinformation and promoting media literacy in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia?
BECID has given the opportunity to connect the media literacy promotion efforts in the Baltic countries. BECID has shown us why working together matters. Harmful narratives don’t stick to one place – they spread across borders. During events like Russia’s actions in Ukraine, similar false stories popped up in different countries, showing they’re aimed at our whole region. This calls for teamwork. When we collaborate, we share ideas and strategies, making the fight against these narratives easier for everyone involved. Thanks to partnerships with the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) and other like-minded hubs across the European Union, BECID contributes to sharing media literacy materials, research, and fact-checks all over Europe. In doing so, BECID’s aim is to advance the local cause of media literacy and work towards greater connectivity and long-term sustainability in the field.
What types of media literacy activities have been organised by BECID since it was set up?
We’ve organised a range of events and online seminars across the Baltics. For instance, in Latvia, we explored the intersection of media literacy and AI, and in Lithuania, we focused on democratic resilience. Our “BaltsTeachMil” Zoominars have been particularly well-received because we’ve been focusing on addressing pressing issues in media literacy across the Baltics, offering insights into helping children navigate misinformation in the classroom and conducting a fact-checking masterclass.
One of our unique projects is the “TikTok House,” aimed at understanding the platform’s algorithm and addressing the spread of disinformation. This involved installations at two different Estonian national events, attracting over 80,000 visitors collectively. The intervention integrated into the State Chancellery’s TikTok competition and garnered around 1.2 million views. You can read more about it on the BECID blog.
In the educational sphere, we’ve proactively developed media literacy training programs for teachers at the University of Tartu and Tallinn University. These programs empower teachers with media literacy and design thinking skills, enabling them to craft and test their own media literacy lessons. Furthermore, our Digimentors project, which bridges tech-savvy youth with seniors, aims to enhance digital literacy across generations in Estonia. To nurture media literacy from a young age, we’ve launched an initiative involving science-based role-playing and movement games for children aged 5 and above. These activities, designed to develop digital, information, and media literacy, have engaged over 5,000 children since 2022.
What plans do you have in relation to media literacy for the next 12 months for BECID?
In BECID, we aim to broaden the Digimentors network across various sectors like schools, youth centers all over the Baltics, and additionally, the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund. Plans also include launching a “Playful Development of Media Literacy” course, targeting students in teacher education and youth work, fostering foundational media literacy skills among professionals working with young children. BECID’s involvement in the University of Tartu master’s program in Disinformation and Societal Resilience, launching in February 2024, is a pivotal step toward international collaboration and deepening cooperation with other universities focusing on media literacy. Notably, organised events like DigiÄKK for preschool groups emphasize digital and media literacy through playful activities. Further, student-led initiatives, like “Social Media Comes Alive,” and ongoing training programs for school teachers, continually evolve based on feedback, aiming to expand to wider target groups, including preschool teachers, youth workers, parents, and the elderly.