Using Comedy and Social Media to Educate on Disinformation

Ukrainians have their work cut out for them addressing disinformation produced by huge foreign propaganda machines, along with Ukrainian TV channels and bloggers sympathetic to the Kremlin. The misinformation swirling worldwide around COVID-19 only adds to a chaotic and distracting media and social media environment.

Although Internews research shows 77% of the respondents are aware that disinformation exists, among those who know about it, 62% think that they can distinguish questionable content from true content, and the majority of those who are aware – 58% – do not think that this is an urgent problem.

When tested, respondents’ actual ability to spot disinformation did not correspond to their self-evaluation. Consequently, organizations working to address the issue of media literacy need to be creative.

Charts showing awareness of disinformation, ability to distinguish, and urgency of the problem

Internews’ partners in Ukraine are doing just that by addressing disinformation on a number of fronts. One organization has been particularly successful.

Online comedy production house Toronto TV helped to improve 11 million users’ critical thinking skills through social media videos about media literacy topics, developed in partnership with Internews. They produced twelve short videos for YouTube, Facebook, and over 497 Instagram stories, tests and questionnaires. Each of the videos on Instagram was viewed by 12,500 people on average.

One video addressed the media coverage and the disinformation about the 2020 terrorist attack in Lutsk, Ukraine, delving into advice, common pitfalls, and standards as to how journalists should and shouldn’t cover such attacks.

Surveys show an increase in audience awareness

At the outset of the project, Toronto TV released a quick online quiz asking, among other things, Toronto TV’s audience about whether they were aware that journalists are supposed to verify information with more than one source. In the early quiz, only 37% out of 5,300 respondents answered correctly.

The same quiz was released at the end of the project, by which time 88% of the 7,200 of respondents gave correct responses to the same question on sources, showing a marked increase in awareness of this journalistic standard after audiences had seen the videos.

The ability of respondents to identify hidden advertising also improved, with correct answers increasing from 49% to 80%.

“Clearly, even those who think they don’t need media literacy education benefit from these videos that are using comedy and satire to educate people,” said Anton Ivanov, Internews Program Manager in Ukraine. “Toronto TV came up with a very creative method for addressing the disinformation problem.”

Non-governmental organizations such as KyivPride, the Council of Student Government in Chervonohrad, and students and teachers at Borys Hrinchenko Kyiv University and Chernihiv Secondary School are now using Toronto TV’s videos to train their members and students.

The videos are particularly popular with young YouTube and Instagram users (aged 13-34), which is important as younger Ukrainians are turning to social media both as a source of information and as a means for disseminating disinformation.

Organizations around Ukraine are successfully fighting disinformation

  • By the end of 2020, twelve textbooks on media literacy, developed by Academy of Ukrainian Press for grades 5-11 with the support of Internews, were included in the list of educational products recommended for use in secondary schools by the Ministry of Education and Science.
  • To counter propaganda, Internews supported Ukraine’s national public service broadcaster UA:PBC to produce a weekly political talk show called Countdown. In 2019-2020 it increased its audience by 50% and was praised by Ukrainian watchdogs as the most balanced and unbiased political talk-show on the air.
  • In early 2020, Internews partner won an award for its Fakecrunch application. The app automatically signals users about manipulative content with a banner and can be used to collect alerts from the public about disinformation online.
  • Internews partner Detector Media’s satirical talk-show News Palm, which focuses on debunking disinformation and exposure of unprofessional media practices, was included in the Wikipedia  list of the top 20 most popular Ukrainian language YouTube blogs on political and social topics. After the COVID-19 pandemic started, the show was made available for free. Six regional TV channels began to broadcast News Palm and the 41 episodes collected over 1.7 million views online.
  • Internews Ukraine counteracted disinformation on Facebook through the TrollessUA initiative. With a group of 265 volunteers, the team identified 4,613 suspected troll profiles and worked with Facebook to close the accounts.

Internews’ work with Toronto TV is part of the Media Program in Ukraine, which is funded by USAID. The Media Program in Ukraine works to empower local media to expand Ukrainian citizens’ access to high-quality news and information.