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Information Literacy & Misinformation in the Era of COVID-19

June 15, 2021 | DIgital

8:30 – 9:30 Am EDT


As the world grapples with a raging pandemic, information literacy—the capacity to critically evaluate content for its quality and usefulness—has become crucial and the cornerstone to survival and recovery. Disinformation and misinformation erode trust in public institutions, exacerbate class conflict, foment fear and hatred, weaken the credibility of our institutions, embolden hostile actors, and jeopardize our very democracies. The spread of propaganda and conspiracy theories is not a new phenomenon, of course, but the technologies and platforms that now connect billions of people around the world have enabled the creation and rapid dissemination of more sophisticated and dangerous forms of distortion than ever before. The growing scope and scale of the threat posed by disinformation and misinformation is seen in politics, health, the environment, and technology, among other areas of society. This Concordia Live dove into CollaborateUp’s preliminary research results on this global threat.

Polling Results from the Live Audience

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In Case You Missed It...

  • Richard Crespin begins by explaining how CollaborateUp leads private consultative round tables in various regions around the world including 85 participants from diverse fields such as academic experts, investigators, leaders of industry, country governments and agencies, and philanthropic organizations.
    • Crespin emphasized that digital technologies have created unfettered access to information which requires users to distinguish the sometimes difficult difference between misinformation (untruth) and disinformation (deliberately spread mistruth).
    • Regulating the flow of information is becoming increasingly challenging as corporate policies and regulations are built for an analog world. As a result, it is taking a longer time to regulate freedom of speech in the digital world.
    • Crespin recommends that to combat misinformation, an autonomic response through awareness and nudging should be built. Media providers should utilize new tools and guidelines to help users develop healthy habits. 
    • Social media platforms should think about how they can create these kinds of nudges while mass media should be verifying information and sharing it overspeed.
    • Instead of prioritizing speed of reporting, the media should focus on accuracy of reporting. Therefore, it is crucial to invest in an objective, credible fast-checking ecosystem.
  • Caroline Logan commented that greater transparency has numerous benefits, but also has a downside as people are beginning to see science and public policy with increasing skepticism. 
    • During the pandemic, the same sources provided opposing messages, causing greater confusion around the data provided. This led to a declining trust in experts and institutions by consumers.
    • The growing skepticism has made many individuals rely on new sources of information which are not necessarily grounded in science.


  • Takehiko Nakao believes that freedom of speech in the media is important, but there must be a clear barrier that safeguards privacy.
    • Misinformation damages society by exaggerating situations and putting privacy at stake. Nakao shared the story of a famous athlete in Japan who took his own life because the media exaggerated its opinion on a delicate topic. 
    • Technology has both beneficial and damaging outcomes. Hasty reactions rather than intentional thought can be harmful – rather than combating mistruth, it is being enhanced.
    • As far as Japan’s case, the societal homogeneity – which lacks gaps in terms of income, education, jobs, and religion – has engendered a moderate attitude towards pressing issues. Similar opinions can hinder innovation and diversity.
    • Nakao believes a stronger set of tools is needed to spotlight issues surrounding fake news. He suggested there is an imperative need to create legal frameworks that recognize and stop the sources of misinformation. 
  • Marian Salzman mentioned that public policymaking and science can undermine trust. Therefore, key investments should be made in public policy, fact-checking and digital ecosystems to eradicate the spread of misinformation.
    • Throughout the pandemic, corporate science emerged as a viable category of science. Salzman argued that there are numerous reasons to be skeptical of all corporate science, and it is the duty of the individual consumer to (civilly) challenge science.
    • Science is all about checking and balancing. It’s about accepting that someone’s work is their best and hopefully their end product has the highest levels of integrity. Again, it is up to the individual consumer to then verify this information.
    • Phillip Morris encourages consumers and industries to engage with them, take what they have to say and then challenge them to prove them right. 
    • It is crucial to recognize we are living in an age of transparency and forthrightness. As a result, people should strive to do their individual best and encourage corporations to do their best as well.


  • Tim Weninger outlined currently a lot of steep psychological information, habits and behaviors are shared in memes and imagery. Therefore, he advocated that individuals have the responsibility to be the curators and editors of their inner circles’ content.
    • Weninger stated that science is not a set of facts; science is a process of determining our best estimates of the truth. One good thing that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is understanding a bit more of the necessary process of science and how those facts are determined.
    • During Weninger’s research in user behavior, he found that 75% of people on Twitter and Reddit, and 95% of the people on Facebook, will share a news article before reading it.
    • Weninger emphasized the importance of informing yourself prior to posting news on social media. Not doing so is one of the fastest sources that contributes to disinformation. 
    • Misinformation has increased specifically in small towns due to the lack of local media. Weninger believes local media should be strengthened to target and combat the sources of misinformation.


What would you like to see differently in corporate policy or in public policy when it comes to how we deal with misinformation?

Salzman responds that the solution is to educate our children. Teaching media literacy is just as critical as teaching mathematics. Children should be encouraged to think critically and analytically, as well as learn how to validate and identify what is an objective fact. The key relies in teaching them how to differentiate between facts and opinions.

Where do you see media literacy is working? What might be brought to scale?

Weninger challenges Salzman opinion and states that even though media literacy is important for children, they often can understand the topic substantially better than their parents do. He instead suggests that the target for teaching media literacy are those new to the digital age (mainly adults and mature adults).

Replying to the main question, Weninger mentions that gamification is working as an effective tool to combat misinformation. In one initiative in Indonesia there is a game that simulates a WhatsApp group where people are encouraged to politely combat misinformation within their friend groups. There is another game in England called Harmony Square that teaches people in an interactive way how misinformation spreads and what they can do to combat it.

What can the audience do differently? What behavior that I could change personally would help with combatting misinformation

Takehiko Nakao – Act as responsible agents when spreading information. Advocate for public policies that regulate tech platforms and their negative monopolistic behaviors.

Marian Salzman – Trust but verify and look for source materials.

Tim Weninger – Realize that you are the editor of your friends’ news. Recognize and be on the lookout for people who are trying to trick you.