Was held on the 10th and 11th November 2022, at the Excelsior Hotel in Malta
Society is facing challenges linked to disinformation and misinformation – particularly information secured online. The spread of misleading and deceptive information undermines trust in public institutions and targets marginalised voices. Young people are particularly affected by mis- and dis-information, both as spreaders and targets. Yet the mass exchange of information by young people on social media platforms has also played a crucial role in political and social changes. Young people should be instrumental in combating the current information crisis through a mix of digital and media literacies, tech-savviness and connected learning. The role of young people in fostering peace and dialogue has been recognised through the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250, on Youth, Peace and Security, and by OSCE participating states in several ministerial declarations, including those addressing the need to prevent and counter extremism.
What was the purpose of Conference?
The relationship of young people with the media and technology they use and trust to secure information is of great relevance to our ongoing research and projects. We believe that a better understanding of digital literacies and the affordances of connected learning can contribute significantly to addressing an international information crisis.
In 2019, the 3CL organised an international conference on the Post-Truth Society. In 2021, we launched the GenZ project, to encourage digital natives to think about media freedoms by developing content in a form that may be shared online. Between June 2021 and June 2022, the OSCE organised a series of six expert roundtables on disinformation. 3CL Director Dr Alex Grech contributed a keynote at the second roundtable and also to the OSCE Paper on Disinformation and Freedom of the Media, which is to be published shortly.
The Young People & Information: It’s Complicated conference originated from a request from the Permanent Representative to the OSCE, the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna. With travel restrictions eased, we were able once again to facilitate in-person discussions between young people, media and technology experts and academics as a means of proposing solutions to the dissemination of information online. Participants were invited to work with the speakers to develop a draft “manifesto in the making”, targeting policy-makers in the Euro-Med region. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFOM) and the Council of Europe also accepted an invitation to participate in the conference.
Three Major Themes
The conference had three interconnected themes:
Addressing Media Freedoms focused on the role of media outlets and citizen journalism and media trust. Modern platforms offer citizen journalists the reach to broadcast hidden stories worldwide, leading to uncertainty around the level of accountability to which independent journalists should be held. The conference considered what can shape citizen journalism to be a more effective public good.
Combating Disinformation through technology, education, and regulation. Technology offers intricate control over the identities people present online, yet puts user information at stake through the level to which public data is harvested. Education is a key tool against misinformation; critical thinking skills are paramount in placing the public in control of the information they come across.
Understanding Online Behaviour was the third theme of the conference. Anonymity, the same tool which allows social movements to kick off, also makes the internet a space for bullying and shaming. Often, the social internet harms its users, with Cancel Culture standing out as an extreme of the online policing which constrains user behaviour – and in particular, affects the developing personalities of young people.
For more about the themes, scroll to the end of this page
Who Spoke at the Conference?
The conference was interdisciplinary by design, and included the contribution of media practitioners, academics, technologists, social scientists, policy-makers and civil society. Organisations who participated in the conference included: the BBC, Vice News, the Guardian Foundation, the Student View, the Times of Malta, the European Federation of Journalists, On Our Radar, the US Embassy in Malta, RISE, the University of Leicester, Lakeside University, the University of Malta, the University of Birmingham, the University of Salford and Bentley University. The second day included a roundtable with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media where the ‘manifesto in the making’ was discussed.
Who Was the Conference For?
This conference targeted students and young people at an early-stage in their career pathways. It was also aimed at people working in or with:
– Policy-making institutions such as the EU, OSCE and other Euro-Med Organisations
– Mainstream and Alternative media
– Social Media
– Civil society and NGOs
We welcomed the participation of delegates from different continents to secure a better understanding of cross-cultural issues and facilitate discussion. For more information on the conference and our ongoing work, please contact us on connect@3CL.org
More about the Themes of the Conference
Theme 1: Addressing Media Freedoms
1.1: Citizen Journalism
Content; Influence; Training
Any person with a smart phone or computer, access to the Internet and social media platforms may share stories, information and opinions. Some would argue that some of the most important news stories of our time have been broken, or greatly contributed to, by citizen journalists. Yet citizen reporting may also be considered power without responsibility. The ability to develop or share a story online without fact-checking has serious ramifications. Many people are apt to believe what they read online – and particularly if that ‘news’ is shared by friends.
1.2: Trust and Mistrust in Old and New Media
Attention economy; Platform surveillance; Business models
The production and consumption of knowledge in a hyper-connected and techno-centric world continues to blur the lines between truth, half-truths and falsehoods. The perpetrators of (mis)information are governments, media, corporations and individuals: in many respects, we are all participants in the current state of affairs, the so-called downward spiral toward tribalism, populism and extremism. Digital platforms are ‘fueled by data, automated and organised through algorithms and interfaces, formalised through ownership relations driven by business models, and governed through user agreements. As long as their business models continue to rely on user-generated content and advertising, user attention remains a valuable commodity that requires platform surveillance.
- If citizen journalism is here to stay, how can it be improved?
- Can people be trained to become citizen journalists?
- How does competing in the attention economy shape the social media products we use?
- How does the race for attention distort how we see the world?
- What do the distortions of the attention economy mean for our future?
- If all media, including traditional media outlets, have become social, how can they be trusted as the fourth estate?
- In a world where democracy finds itself undermined and threatened in a consistent manner, how do we go about saving journalism as a public good?
Theme 2: Combating Mis/Disinformation
Many factors contribute to the spread of mis/disinformation, ranging from micro- to macro-level variables. Solutions offered to tackle this issue tend to revolve around three key strands: technology, governmental regulation and education. Such conversations are contentious and fraught with tensions, particularly between those who believe that the way to solve trust issues is to build solutions on decentralised technologies and those who push against technological determinism, and predicate an investment in new models for education. Add regulation to the debate, and the picture becomes even more complex.
Identity Solutions, Datafication, Self-sovereignty
One of the unresolved, ongoing discussions is whether the information age, and the reflexive relationship between technology and society, have made our increasingly connected and datafied lives better, or worse. In principle, technology facilitates self-sovereign identity, empowering individuals to manage their identities independently of third parties, and make better decisions on which elements of their data and credentials to share with others. Yet the use of big and small data continues to be the domain of the powerful, particularly platforms that harvest data for profit.
Digital literacies, Curricula, Lifelong learning
Skills related to digital literacy, such as identifying facts from fake information, managing ‘information overload’ and navigating safely online, are recognised as the top three digital skills needed for the 21st century. Currently in Europe, one in three 13-year-olds students lack basic digital skills when directly tested, and according to the OECD, only a little over half of 15-year-olds in the EU reported being taught how to detect whether information is subjective or biased. Teachers are not using social media or the internet in the same way as their students and therefore do not necessarily have the insights needed to know what to address. This may change over time as Gen Z become teachers, but the next generation are using social media differently again – the constant and fast change of use has implications for making the teaching relevant, even if policy-makers try to ‘sidestep’ this by talking about critical thinking. Teachers also often lack the time to acquire the necessary level of knowledge and expertise associated with teaching about the digital world.
There is a clear need for a re-think of curricula, and to strengthen the role of education and training in tackling disinformation and promoting digital and media literacy. Such efforts will increase resiliency and the possibility to fight the impact of online disinformation more effectively.
Regulation, Data protection, Standards
Attempts at regulating media outlets are always challenging: in the case of new media and social media platforms in particular, regulation of online content and the media responsibilities of social media platforms have become challenging topics that attract polarised views. Issues relating to the protection of personal data, and the use of third-party data continue to attract the attention of regulatory bodies worldwide.
- Can social media platforms be regulated in the same way as mainstream media outlets?
- Are social media platforms media outlets?
- Is it possible for Big Tech to take responsibility for the harm and lies caused by the mis- and disinformation they permit to spread on their platforms?
- Is it possible for social media platforms to self-regulate?
Theme 3: Understanding Online Behaviour
Gender; Race; Anonymity
The affordances of the Internet and digital media have facilitated a negotiation and renegotiation of gender identities, norms and roles. They have also provided anonymity to disruptive regimes and individual actors, with devastating effect on the well-being of young people. Stalking, cyber-bullying and online shaming are synonymous with digital media. Conversely, the proliferation of mobile devices has led to movements such as Black Lives Matter and #Me Too using the same platforms to witness and chronicle injustices, and bring to account gross abuses of power.
3.2: Push backs:
Sub-themes: Influencers; Cancel Culture; Woke Culture
There are clear disconnects between the promise of individual empowerment though the emergence of new media (and social media platforms in particular), and the impact (real or perceived) of these on young people’s behaviour. In times of crisis, challenges related to the spread of disinformation and harmful content increase, place strain on our democracies and individuals’ wellbeing. There is insufficient awareness among key stakeholders, including policy-makers, of the risks associated with the threats that characterise the use of digital media.
- What does disinformation mean for the information age?
- How can all involved stakeholders – from policymakers, to experts, to youth – listen to each other? And contribute to understanding better the challenge and consequences of disinformation?
- What is the role of young people? How do they view the mis- and disinformation phenomenon?
- How important is digital literacy and fact-checking for young people? Which methods are available for fact-checking?
- What are the consequences if young people fail to understand the challenges posed by disinformation?
- Is Cancel Culture a generational disconnect?
- What does it take to become influential online?
- Can young people live normal lives when their everyday lives are under surveillance by their peers?