Microsoft’s media literacy program aims to empower Internet users and fight misinformation online

Microsoft's media literacy program aims to empower Internet users and fight misinformation online

WASHINGTON People are hungry for accurate and reliable information online and may just need help finding it, according to a new media literacy project launched by Microsoft.

Microsoft misinformation

The Microsoft logo is pictured March 2 at Mobile World Congress 2023 in Barcelona, ​​Spain.

Joan Mateu Parra, Associated Press

The tech company partnered with TrustProject, a non-profit consortium of news organizations, to create advertisements that point internet users to a list of eight ‘trust indicators’ that can be used to rate a website’s credibility . Indicators include things like clear labeling of opinion pieces, a code of practices, and attribution of sources.

The majority of people who viewed the list expressed greater confidence in their ability to find reliable news stories while hunting down misinformation, a promising finding that suggests media literacy can be a cost-effective and scalable solution to the daunting problem of online misinformation. .

“This has been a bit of an experiment for us,” said Ginny Badanes, senior director of Microsoft’s Democracy Forward Initiative, a unit of the company that focuses on efforts to strengthen democracy and online journalism. “The world is changing very fast and people need tools to equip themselves.”

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The stakes are high. Misinformation on sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube has been accused of encouraging political polarization, undermining trust in democratic institutions and promoting vaccine opposition, election denial and violent extremism.

The speed and power of the Internet can make online misinformation seem like an unsolvable problem.

Journalistic fact checks are effective, but they are labor-intensive, not widely read, and won’t convince those who already distrust traditional journalism.

Content moderation by tech companies is often inconsistent and only pushes misinformation elsewhere, prompting cries of censorship and bias. Efforts to regulate the Internet are legally and politically challenging.

Measures to promote critical thinking and media literacy, however, have shown considerable success in helping people learn to detect misinformation for themselves. Google launched a series of YouTube videos in Eastern Europe last year designed to teach people how disinformation works; the campaign was recently extended to Germany.

Claims masquerading as reliable news often fail to cite their sources, mix opinions and facts, and use distorted stories or headlines designed to exploit emotions such as fear, anger, or disgust.

Legitimate news organizations, by contrast, will identify their sources, invite feedback, include diverse voices and enforce a code of conduct on their journalists, said Sally Lehrman, a journalist and Trust Project chief executive.

The ads were seen by users of Microsoft products and systems, including email. Over the course of six months, the ads drove twice as many people to the project site; 62% of those who visited the site said it helped them feel more confident when evaluating information online.

“I’m very encouraged by our results,” Lehrman said, noting that short ads on the Internet are a relatively cheap and easy solution compared to complicated and controversial government regulations or the hit-and-miss efforts of tech companies.

The need for media literacy has become more apparent as deepfakes and AI make disinformation easier than ever to spread, Lehrman said.

But will people really watch ads designed to help them become smarter consumers of news and information? Lehrman said research shows they will especially when the ads are effective at grabbing people’s attention.

“Are we asking people to eat their broccoli? I always reject that because I think broccoli is delicious,” she said. “But we have to make it delicious.”

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