FuJo and EDMO Ireland have made a joint submission to the mid-term review consultation of the National Cyber Security Strategy 2019-2024.
The strategy identifies a range of measures to enhance cyber security, support the cyber security industry and research community, and advance Ireland’s international role.
Given our areas of expertise in digital media literacy and disinformation, the FuJo and EDMO Ireland submission suggests there is an opportunity to recognise the threats posed by digital media manipulation including coordinated influence campaigns
Specific recommendations concern measure 20 on citizens, which states that “government will develop a national cyber security information campaign which will use information provided by the NCSC
and the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau and be delivered by entities which are directly engaged in information provision”. Reported progress includes the piloting of a cyber security education project in the junior cycle that promotes awareness of cyber risks among pupils regarding how they engage online with educational resources, social media, and gaming platforms.
FuJo and EDMO Ireland recommend the following:
Topic scope: In terms of topics covered, we suggest a broader focus on aspects of media literacy, including disinformation, would complement current and planned engagement on cyber security. The term “media literacy” refers to the lifelong process of acquiring the knowledge, skills and practices that are necessary to be a consumer and producer of media content in a critical, creative, and responsible manner.
Fundamentally, media literacy is about empowering citizens to make well-informed decisions about the content and information they consume. In this sense, media literacy underpins fundamental values including democracy, equity, justice, and tolerance. This understanding of media literacy is, we suggest, closely related in practice to the work of Webwise on internet safety.
Formal education: In terms of formal education, we note that the National Strategy for Literacy, Numeracy, and Digital Literacy recognises the importance of offering “multiple opportunities for the development of digital skills and digital literacy” across the curriculum from primary to senior cycle. In Ireland, some elements of digital media literacy are spread across the national curriculum. There are opportunities to explore media literacy in Transition Year programmes and a short course on Digital Media Literacy is available to Junior Cycle teachers across the country. There are also ad hoc provisions on internet safety and cyber security. We recommend the expansion of these provisions in a way that consolidates relevant topics into a coherent whole. However, we note that any expansion of these provisions requires opportunities for teachers to engage in continuous professional learning as they often lack training in these areas.
DCU FuJo and EDMO Ireland has some expertise in this area. We have delivered workshops on various topics around media literacy for both children and adults in public libraries. We have also designed and delivered webinars on disinformation to secondary teachers in partnership with Arts in Junior Cycle, an educational programme that offers training and support for secondary teachers, including the ones teaching the Digital Media Literacy short course. We were involved in the development of classes on topics related to media literacy for students of the Professional Masters of Education (PME) in Trinity College Dublin, a compulsory pre-service education programme for secondary teachers in the country. In 2022, we delivered the first class on critical media literacy for PME students in Ireland. In 2023, we began an international research project involving five countries that will complement the work carried out by EDMO Ireland. The project will investigate current teacher training initiatives across the continent, assess the opportunities available, and provide solutions in the form of digital resources and professional networks.
General public and key groups: In terms of reaching citizen groups, we note that many individuals beyond the school setting need awareness and support regarding disinformation, phishing scams, and related topics. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic DCU FuJo developed the guide ‘How to avoid false information‘ for Age Action. The guide was distributed across the country as part of Age Action’s Getting Started pack that supports older people to use digital technologies. This action was facilitated by Media Literacy Ireland (MLI), a national association of members facilitated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
MLI’s 250+ members represent a broad range of sectors – education, libraries, civil society, media, technology platforms – and collaborate to develop new partnerships and sustainable media literacy projects. Launched in 2019, the national Be Media Smart campaign established a campaign infrastructure drawing on the expertise and resources of members. The concept and resources were freely shared with European partners resulting in the replication of the campaign in four regions (North Macedonia, the Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Norway). EDMO Ireland was responsible for organising a new section on the new MLI website launched in December 2022 called Training and Development, which provides the public with resources and training courses on different topics related to media literacy, such as disinformation, online safety, news media and data privacy.
Pre-bunking campaigns: Regarding disinformation and foreign influence campaigns specifically, we suggest that campaigns grounded in pre-bunking or inoculation theory may be a beneficial way to build resilience among citizens. Pre-emptive approaches to tackling misinformation are commonly referred to as pre-emptive debunking or pre-bunking. Rather than attempt to counter disinformation after it has spread, pre-bunking aims to make audiences resilient to disinformation before they encounter it. Research
indicates that pre-bunking is generally effective at increasing attitudinal resistance against manipulation; although more research is needed to better understand the dynamics.
Writing in the European Psychologist journal, Jon Roozenbeek (University of Cambridge), Eileen Culloty and Jane Suiter (DCU FuJo) explained pre-bunking as follows: Although several approaches to pre-bunking exist, the most common framework is inoculation theory. Medical inoculations are (usually) weakened and harmless pathogens that, upon introduction, prompt the body to create antibodies. Inoculation theory posits that the same can be achieved with unwanted attempts at persuasion. People can build attitudinal resistance against future persuasion attempts by pre-emptively exposing them to a “weakened” dose of the unwanted persuasive
In 2022, DCU FuJo and EDMO Ireland partnered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the University of Cambridge to produce a series of pre-bunking videos to counter common disinformation claims about the Russian war on Ukraine. These animated videos are examples of passive, technique-based inoculation as they provide viewers with a counter-argument to resist common manipulation strategies: specifically, the straw man fallacy, whataboutism, and the shifting the goalposts strategy. Once produced in English, the animated videos will be presented to the network of EDMO hubs and translated into multiple languages for international distribution. We suggest there is considerable scope for further work in this area.