News Brief

Ukrainian kids get inoculated against fake news

A program funded by the U.S. and U.K. governments is helping Ukrainian school children figure out truth from fiction at a time when their country and Europe is awash with fake news.

IREX, an education organization involved in the project, describes in a new report how 5,000 8th and 9th graders learned to discover disinformation in classes as varied as art and history and learn how to verify if photos had been doctored or unverified facts were being propagated.

In the past half-decade, disinformation has been a particularly salient problem in Ukraine. Many observers note that information warfare plays a particularly large role in the nation’s ongoing troubles, whether the Russian invasion of Crimea or Russian-backed insurgency in Donbas. Schools have been a particularly contested sector.

The resulting lack of trust in politicians and authority has had drastic consequences. In this weekend’s national election a comedian who plays a president in the popular television series called Servant of the People is actually leading the polls in real life.

The teenagers in 50 Ukrainian schools who participated in the information literacy program outperformed others by over 10% on various critical reading measures. Girls, the report noted, proved better learners than boys.

The trained students also self-reported being more in control of their media consumption. For example, they were more likely to agree with statements like “I am in control of the information I get from the news” and “When I am misinformed by the news media, I am to blame.” IREX associates these statements with good outcomes.

Students also told the researchers preparing the report that the lessons in which they were learning about misinformation were among some of the most memorable of their school year.