Fighting Misinformation: Digital Media Literacy

Course No. 5043
Taught By Multiple Professors
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Course No. 5043
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Distinguish between misinformation and disinformation, and learn about several types of problematic content.
  • numbers Explore the ways in which the internet has made us all publishers of information, and practice the techniques necessary to take responsibility for truth and information validity in this technological age.
  • numbers Study the history and evolution of media, and understand the ways in which the human brain pre-disposes us all to fall victim to misinformation.
  • numbers Look critically at visual media, reflecting on the ways in which it is selected, edited, reframed, and even manipulated to deceive and distort.
  • numbers Use the same strategies that journalists employ to fact check and verify media information, then apply the principles of Label to Disable" and "Care before You Share" to protect yourself and others from the negative effects of misinformation."

Course Overview

Have no doubt: The threat of misinformation is real. It has been used intentionally by those who would sow ignorance, division, and discord; it has been repeated unintentionally by those unprepared to critically analyze the media around them. With this course, you can better discern false information and slow its spread in your own community. But the first step in stopping the spread of misinformation lies with you—and, as you’ll learn, it’s not as complicated as you might think.

Americans spend hundreds, even thousands, of hours a week engaging with a wide range of media sources—TV, computers, tablets, radios, MP3 players, cell phones, newspapers, magazines, books, and more. Through these, we constantly access a wide range of platforms and media, from news to novels to Twitter feeds to email, and much more. Because we are continuously taking in information from a variety of sources, we are under constant threat from those who would intentionally (or accidentally) misinform—from foreign operatives, advertisers, politicians, and general scammers to our own friends and family. We all experience a near-constant barrage of incoming information. Combine that with the human brain’s reaction to stress or fear, and conditions are ripe for the spread of misinformation.

To better prepare you to defuse this threat, IREX (International Research & Exchanges Board) has teamed up with The Great Courses to provide a guide for navigating this tricky landscape with Fighting Misinformation: Digital Media Literacy, an eight-lecture course designed to arm you with the skills you need to be a savvy media consumer. Tara Susman-Peña, a senior technical advisor, and her colleagues at IREX, Mehri Druckman and Nina Oduro, will lead you step by step through the history, evolution, science, and impact of misinformation, helping you to develop the skills you need to combat fakes, stereotypes, and frauds within every kind of media source.

What Is Misinformation?

Using media technology, disinformation and propaganda have been shared by various political powers and individual agents to sow confusion and discord in populations around the world. For example, a campaign in the Ukraine begun in 2013 by the Kremlin has led to frustration, anger, and cynicism among the Ukrainian people, ultimately advancing Russian political designs on Ukrainian territories. But Ukraine has not been the only victim of systematic and intentional misinformation cyberattacks: Elections in the United States—and other nations around the world—have been seriously impacted by foreign interference through the spread of unverified and misleading information.

In this dynamic course, you will learn from media and misinformation experts about the falsehoods, slander, prejudice, and bad ideas that fall under the umbrella terms of disinformation and misinformation. Specifically, you will:

  • Distinguish between the terms misinformation and disinformation, and understand how the creator’s intentions impact each;
  • Learn the types of problematic content, or misinformation, including satire/parody, false connection, false context, misleading/imposter/manipulated/fabricated content, hate speech, and propaganda;
  • Consider examples of particularly pernicious and prevalent misinformation in the United States today, and explore the very real dangers to public health and safety associated with each;
  • Exercise your critical-thinking skills to develop crucial skills to apply to the information you encounter every day;
  • Learn how to determine when a source can be trusted, and how to compare and contrast sources that are trustworthy with those that are not;
  • Change your information-consumption habits to ensure you are engaging with trustworthy sources; and
  • Build your emotional resilience, so you are less easily swayed by appeals to emotion when you encounter information that seeks to manipulate you.

The way our brains naturally function, unfortunately, makes us particularly vulnerable to misinformation. As you explore these topics and more, the educators at IREX will lead you through a deeper understanding of the human brain and its chemical response to stress. At the very moment when we are most anxious or fearful, our brains cut out any extraneous information, narrowing our focus on survival. This reduced capacity can inhibit our ability to discern inaccuracies or falsehoods in the information we are receiving. This can be doubly true when the information itself is alarming. Is there any way to slow down and refocus our attention on the details that might help us critically appraise the media we consume? Yes, and this course will show you how.

How to Verify Information

Quality journalism is based on facts and truth, but the media can be full of opinions masquerading as fact. Learn the skills that good journalists employ—steps like cross-checking and lateral reading—to guarantee that their audience has access to the most current, accurate information available. Also, explore the ways in which you, personally, can use a variety of websites, browsers, and applications to check and recheck the stories, images, and data crossing your path.

IREX has developed a set of procotols which can, when used in tandem, stop the spread of dangerous and damaging misinformation. Starting with “Label to Disable,” a simple, three-step process that can help you support the rational-thinking skills of your brain when you come across provocative information and build your emotional resilience to the effects of misinformation. This step is then followed up with a process that adds personal responsibility to everything you pass along, known as “Care before You Share.” These protocols can help you in the face of rapidly changing techological innovation, helping you to stem the tide of falsehoods and propaganda.

By learning how experts verify information—and building a toolbox of skills you can apply to the news and rumors you encounter every day—you will be better prepared to evaluate what you encounter and feel more confident in determining what is fact and what is fiction.

Threat of Misinformation in Science and Health

Misinformation in science and health can be especially destructive, leading to substantial ecological damage and major public health emergencies. The nature of science as a rapidly changing and often uncertain field can make science and health news seems particularly confusing. How can you bring a critical eye to what you read and see in the fields of health and science? How can you avoid inaccurate or blatantly false information that can cause serious harm to you or those you love? IREX begins by using the first steps of the scientific method.

By employing the open-minded, curious, and discerning methodologies employed by scientists, you can learn to develop and test hypotheses and use clear evidence to support the conclusions you reach about health and science issues.

All of these vital lessons will help you determine whether what you are reading or seeing is worthy of believing and sharing with your friends, family, and community. Recognizing the dangers posed from misinformation; working to verify what we are seeing, reading, and hearing; and taking responsibility for only passing along those things that we have carefully vetted, we become a part of the solution.

Evolution of Convincing Lies

It sometimes seems impossible to keep up with the pace of technological innovation. Just as each day brings us access to new and exciting advances in information sharing, so, too, does the rapidly changing world of technology pose endless new risks to information accuracy. As Ms. Susman-Peña and her colleagues point out, technology is a tool and “…every exciting new resource that can solve a problem also has the potential to be appropriated in harmful ways.”

There is a misinformation arms race underway. Those who would spread misinformation for political, social, or economic gain find new ways to spread lies and discord all the time. Although some of the finest minds in the world are working to stop the spread of misinformation, the most important work must be done at the individual and community levels.

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8 lectures
 |  Average 26 minutes each
  • 1
    The Misinformation Threat
    Democracy depends on a well-informed, discerning electorate, equipped to judge the validity of the information available. In this first lecture, Ms. Susman-Peña and her esteemed colleagues at IREX delve into the concepts of misinformation and disinformation, and explain the critical ways in which falsehoods, slander, prejudice, and bad ideas can threaten American democracy. x
  • 2
    The Evolution of Media and Misinformation
    Options for news sources have expanded exponentially in the digital age. Content is at our fingertips from traditional news sources, but anyone can now be a publisher of information on the internet, and computer algorithms are influencing what you see every day. How do we sort the legitimate news from false, misleading, or opinion content? Travel with your instructors through the history of communication technology as you learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. x
  • 3
    Misinformation and the Brain
    Humans often fail to critically evaluate the world around us. Take a close look at the machinations of misinformation, and how it can be used in conjunction with our natural cognitive biases to lead us astray. Learn about the role of reality distortion, the “Barnum effect,” selective recall, and confirmation bias in misinformation, and how techniques like “Label to Disable” and “Care before You Share” can help. x
  • 4
    Seeing Through Visual Misinformation
    Visual images have been selected, edited, reframed—even manipulated—before they reach us, often in ways designed to elicit an emotional response. Explore the impact of reuse and mislabeling, photo selection effect, and deliberate alteration or forgery to affect how we see and feel about an image. Then, employ Label to Disable to diffuse the threat of visual misinformation. x
  • 5
    Countering Fakes and Stereotypes in Media
    How do fake information and stereotypes combine to produce an especially damaging type of misinformation? Fake information, including fake social media accounts, fake chat messages, and fake reviews, can infiltrate our electronic lives. See how stereotypes can magnify the damage done by fake information, and consider the difficult questions presented by the human tendency toward bias. x
  • 6
    Journalistic Verification Skills
    Your ability to differentiate between fact and opinion and to judge the quality of media content is vital to a functional democracy. You do not have to go it alone. Learn how the professionals test and verify information, as well as what websites, plug-ins, and tactics can help you determine journalistic integrity and accuracy of information. x
  • 7
    Assessing Science and Health News
    How can we make good decisions about important health and science issues if we cannot trust the news we get about them? Scientific knowledge, by its very nature, is always changing, but using some simple methods described in this segment, you can ascertain the validity of health and science information. x
  • 8
    Technology, Misinformation, and the Future
    The rise of new technology has led to a simultaneous, exponential increase in misinformation—locally, nationally, and even internationally. Learn how artificial intelligence and augmented reality programs are being used to spread misinformation, and how media literacy, Label to Disable, and Care before You Share can be used to combat its spread. x

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Your professors

Tara Susman-Peña Mehri Druckman Nina Oduro

Professor 1 of 3

Tara Susman-Peña

Professor 2 of 3

Mehri Druckman

Professor 3 of 3

Nina Oduro
Tara Susman-Peña leads the adaptation and expansion of Learn to Discern, an IREX media literacy methodology, in the United States and around the world. She trains participants and trainers on how to fight misinformation and conduct audience research. She taught at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs and has lectured widely at institutions such as Georgetown University; Columbia...
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Mehri Druckman is a media literacy and training development expert who combines deep knowledge of anti-propaganda programming, effective media support, community engagement, and the application of technology to improve development outcomes with field-tested training methodologies. In 2015, she designed and managed IREX’s innovative Learn to Discern project, a citizen media literacy initiative that reached more than 15,000...
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Nina Oduro develops and facilitates training for young leaders, educators, and community organizers. She is currently a lead trainer for IREX’s Learn to Discern U.S. initiative and supports curriculum design and delivery alongside IREX’s partners. Ms. Oduro developed IREX’s first comprehensive training guide, drawing on 50 years of the organization’s experience with training as well as industry best practices. Using...
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Fighting Misinformation: Digital Media Literacy is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 12.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Misinformation is correct. I bought this at the beginning of the month. It was timely delivered but a waste of money. It is primarily an infomercial about IREX. Not a lot of content. It put me to sleep.
Date published: 2020-01-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Contains some misinformation I watched this course on the Great Course Plus and just bought it mainly for the course outline. The course contains numerous sources for evaluating claims on the internet, with resources that will find the origin of photos, audio and video that are used for misinformation. In this regard, the course was excellent. There were a few examples of misinformation but I expect they shied away from anything controversial on purpose. No mention of Trump tweets, no mention of the Russian hoax though they go after Russia in places but not necessarily for the 2016 election. The term "fake news" came up a few times but little was done to explore it. In this regard, the course was deficient. My guess to do so would have been polarizing. One of the presenters is actually Ukrainian and the Ukraine is mentioned in a couple lectures. But they provide misinformation when they do. For example, they talk about the Russian annexation of the Crimea from the Ukraine but fail to tell you that the Crimea had been part of Russia for over two centuries and only administratively assigned to the Ukraine during the Soviet period about 50 years ago. It has always been the home of the main Russian fleet. They talk briefly about the Euromaidan revolution in the Ukraine without mentioning that the person being overthrown, Viktor Yanukovych, was the elected president of the country. They made it sound like he was a Russian puppet and that was why he was overthrown. Now I am no fan of the Russians but why distort what happened. Very strange for a course on misinformation especially in the first lecture. This is a useful course for the sites they recommend for finding out the origin of controversial social media stories. But there are better ways to find out the truth. One can best understand distortion in the news or internet by visiting a few reliable sites that cover issues from both sides.
Date published: 2020-01-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Current, contemporary & enormously useful FIRST; with 45+ years as a computer tech and 25+ years in video (production & post-production) and well-versed in brain quadrant psychology - this course was right down my alley. SECOND; the three instructors were specialists in their field - all participating in the same chapter. The main speaker (Tara) was excellent & exceptional. The 2nd specialized in technology with the 3rd speaker in practical application regarding REAL issues and REAL people (in the Ukraine) and indicated this type of course will be a REQUIREMENT in their education system there. Unfortunately IMHO that's not likely here in the US. THIRD; The course is LOADED with useful information on exactly WHAT we're being hammered with (various flavors of CLICK BAIT) and offering us a psychological defense & solution for dealing with our emotional "jerks" that are thrown at us. In particular, how to technically verify & spot fraud and to cross-examine things we hear and see - and further, how to use our mental trashcan daily & not pass it on. ANALYSIS: In my view, the course focused entirely on the internet (phones, tablets, computers) but left out 50% of the "misinformation" issues on TV which comes across the same "digital" wire in our homes. To lump TV together with the rest is not realistic as TV is mostly video and the other is mostly text & still pictures. For this reason I gave the course 4-stars instead of 5. TO ELABORATE: Lawyer-101 is "lie by OMISSION". If being informed by one news channel presenting important issues of folks paying their bills, putting food on their table & security for their family -- while the other channel briefly mentions that but focusing on the number of ducks swimming in the pond hundreds of miles away -- that is (as the course title puts it) "misinformation" -- making the listener a garbage receptacle of useless information when it comes to "news"……and technically, both are correct. AS AN EXAMPLE: about a decade ago, the keynote speaker of a presidential campaign was delivering his speech (LIVE broadcast). As the camera panned the audience, there was standing room only with everyone going wild. Flipping the channel, the other news channel showed a previously recorded video clip (hours prior) of a small section of the auditorium during a break - showing many empty chairs and two people taking a nap. The so-called "news anchor" said quote: "well, it looks like not everybody is interested in the keynote speaker's address", unquote. Then she turned to the round table with other "commentators" to discuss the earth-shattering issue of the campaign hat & what the colors on it meant. Flipping back, the keynote speaker & audience were going strong……and technically, both are correct. As a veteran video editor, I see things most people don't as they're being psychologically sucked in (as the course puts it) by psychologists who are PAID to fabricate this. Commercials that TILT the image so your attention tries to subconsciously straighten it out with sub-second "jump back" video clips to snare you….including subliminal "hidden messages" your conscious didn't see. We do see slow motion commercials with totally lower-right brain (emotional) appeal of a sweet darling little child having fun with a parent - while the required legal disclaimers [yuck] are being read in a monotone voice. How much of WHAT are you going to remember? POLITICAL CANDIDATE THEY LIKE: (actual) Clip-1: rainbows in the sky with children singing in the flowered fields. Clip-2: their favored candidate: sol-mo, smiling, warm orange filter, cool music, with additional irrelevant video track of cheering superbowl crowd in the background Clip-3: sunshine & bunnies, there is no evil, life is wonderful POLITICAL CANDIDATE THEY HATE: (actual) Clip-1: disastrous oil spill, dying birds & seals - gloom, doom, excessive misery. Clip-2: their hated candidate: shot from below to show a look-down-their-nose at you, green-grey filter (color of death), high contrast filter (show every blemish), bass reduced sound with augmented treble (screechy voice), no background cheering crowd, instead a playing funeral dirge. Clip-3: a nuclear melt down - radiation everywhere - end of the world. At my attendance of the yearly NAB (National Broadcasters Convention) in Las Vegas where 150k people attend, I saw a demo of the improving MOTION CAPTURE technology where two guys in shorts & T-shirt go at it with broomsticks. In the monitor showed Darth Vader & Luke Skywalker going at it with light sabres . At the click of a mouse, it changed to Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny going at it. The point: forget the "spy" camera as they can fabricate any video of anybody doing anything they want -- down to the peach fuzz on their nose. The course mentioned how current technology can easily fabricate "fake audio" and also "fake video" however (when it comes to TV) they never showed CONTRASTED misinformation as mentioned above. To do that IMHO, that might affect course sales since we are (as the course puts it) already "polarized". I still recommend this fine course for thoroughly covering the internet issues.
Date published: 2020-01-13
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