Retired engineer JS Wong, 60, often forwards news, video clips and other information that he receives to his contacts and groups on WhatsApp. But when asked for the source and whether the information is true, he is often unable to verify it and his usual reply is: “I don’t have the original link. My friend sent it to me, so I guess it must be true lah!”
Unfortunately, this is the case with many in Malaysia who don’t distinguish whether news, videos or information that are posted or forwarded to them through social networking platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook (Messenger) or other platforms are true, before reposting or re-forwarding them.
Although most people are on social networking platforms – especially during the pandemic – some just aren’t aware of how to verify the authenticity of such messages, or even the need to do so before reposting or re-forwarding.
It is with this in mind that the Media Education for All (ME4A, pronounced as mee-faa) initiative has been launched.
The movement, facilitated by social enterprise Arus Academy in partnership with The Fourth, an independent collective of journalists, aims to help develop media literacy in Malaysians from young.
Media literacy is the method to deal with misinformation and it starts with the young, says Arus Academy co-founder and director of curriculum development David Chak.
“Forty-three per cent of Malaysians are young adults and we need to start developing media literacy with the young ones. If we teach one person, we’re only teaching that one person. But with educators, we can teach a generation of young adults,” says David.
Fifteen educators and 11 media practitioners (mentors) have been working together to develop a module for teachers’ professional development in the Media Education for All (ME4A) initiative.
“When I see my students, a lot of them are innocent. They’ll believe everything that’s online. That’s why they need education to learn what they should follow and what they shouldn’t, and learn how to filter what’s real and what’s not,” says ME4A media educator Nani Saidi.
“The teachers involved have a unique opportunity to engage with students about media literacy that sometimes even journalists don’t have. We get three minutes online but you get to constantly reinforce the message in classrooms,” says ME4A media mentor Chak Onn Lau.
“The classroom atmosphere is the best for learning something. When we institutionalise studies about the media and how we read and get information online, it will help students understand better how to filter information,” says ME4A media mentor Rizal Zulkapli.
This module development will provide 3,000 educators (by 2022) from all over the country with skills on media literacy.
“I think media literary is very important because our students are all on social media and that’s a rather uncontrolled medium of information. This is something that is crucial for for our students in this time and age,” says ME4A media educator Emily Neoh.
“As a teacher, you’ve to teach more than just your subject. You’ve to prepare your students for life so that they can function well in society. And this initiative is part of that,” adds Neoh.
“We all have smartphones and Internet access 24 hours of the day. When then, if not now, do we educate people about media literacy?” says ME4A media educator Hilmi Bakar.
“If all Malaysians have higher skills in media literacy, Malaysia will be more well-developed, more harmonious, more peaceful and more sensitive to the community around them,” adds Hilmi.
ME4A aims to empower the next generation to be media literate, creating a generation of media users who are critical, discerning and assertive.
“We believe that teachers play a pivotal role to raise youth who are analytical and assertive, and this has to start in the classrooms,” says David.
A media literacy training portal will help upskill Malaysian educators in media literacy by conducting continuous professional development courses. The self-paced teacher training platform will enable these educators to upskill themselves in this area so that they in turn can train their students about media literacy.
In retrospect, Wong concurs that it’s important to check and verify whether information and news that is forwarded on chat apps or posted on social media is true. For non-local information that he receives from unverified sources (without a website link to a credible source), he now verifies them on fact-checking websites such as Snopes (formerly Urban Legends Reference Pages).
“But I can only check for international information on Snopes. There aren’t any such websites to verify local information so this ME4A initiative is good because teachers are trained to teach (media literacy) to students in school so they learn from young,” he says when asked about his thoughts on ME4A.