In the wake of the political turmoil, students are learning to identify hate speech, propaganda and misinformation in the media.
According to NPR, students across several cities in Ukraine are being taught to identify fake news and increase media literacy. Lessons include recognizing how a photo could be taken from film and altered to portray conflict.
Run by the International Research & Exchanges Board, known as IREX, the Learn to Discern program was launched with the purpose of countering disinformation campaigns in Ukraine.
IREX is a non-profit organization focused on education founded in the late 1960’s by the U.S. Department of State along with the Ford Foundation.
— U.S. Embassy Kyiv (@USEmbassyKyiv) March 3, 2019
The program has been expanded to Guatemala, Jordan, Serbia, Tunisia and the United States.
According to Deutsche Welle, fake news spread about Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a former actor from the Ukrainian TV series “Servant of the People,” after he declared his campaign. A Facebook story from a fabricated outlet claimed that the public prosecutor of Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko, had launched criminal proceedings against Zelensky.
An example of one of IREX’s lessons is recognizing that an outlet called bbccn.co would not be legitimate because it was fabricated by combining the BBC and CNN.
This trend of misinformation continues beyond faulty news outlets.
Russian lawmaker Zhirinovsky says he's introduced a bill to denounce the outcome of the Ukrainian presidential election due to mass electoral fraud and intimidation of voters
…except the election hasn't even happened yet… https://t.co/EGgRQVTgVP
— Polina Ivanova (@polinaivanovva) March 27, 2019
An example of propaganda the Ukrainian students managed to spot was noted by Reuters journalist Polina Ivanova. She pointed out that the students were able to recognize that a Russian lawmaker was drafting a bill to declare the Ukrainian Presidential election results as illegitimate, even before the votes came in.
Reuters reported that Mr. Zelenskiy is currently in the lead to be president of Ukraine, ahead of incumbent candidates Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.
Coincidentally, the plot of “Servant of the People” is that an unexpected candidate wins the Ukrainian presidential election after a video surfaces of the main character going after corruption in the country.
While current president Poroshenko had been in the lead, various scandals, topped with a sluggish economy, have allowed Zelenskiy to gain widespread support.
According to Public Radio International, Zelenskiy promises reforms ranging from removing Ukrainian presidents’ immunity to general anti-corruption reforms—policies that can also be found in the plot of “Servant of the People.”
In the midst of the political chaos, The New Republic and other outlets have praised the IREX program for effectively educating youth in Ukraine on spotting fake news and increasing individual media literacy.