Digital information literacy is a modern civic skill that underpins participation in democratic decision-making. Finland is renowned for its high literacy rate, and the teaching of multiple literacies has been integrated into current curricula from early childhood education onwards.
However, on digital platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, children and young people are confronted with a bewildering flood of information that they may not be able to filter out with the skills they have acquired in the school community and at home: claims about products by influencers, search results tailored by commercial algorithms, cleverly scripted propaganda and authorisations to track online behaviour or physical movement in urban space hidden behind countless ’yes’ buttons. It is therefore important to strengthen the digital information literacy of all the web users, especially young people, in order to identify how we are being influenced online.
In the first chapter, Kari Kivinen briefly introduces the different types of media and information literacy skills and their differences and overlaps. Why has the Finnish FaktaBaari decided to promote and support digital information literacy for citizens?
The EU has set ambitious targets that at least 80% of the population should master basic digital skills by 2030. What are these basic digital skills? How are they defined and how could they be promoted?
In the second chapter, DigComp 2.2. author Riina Vuorikari and Kari Kivinen present a digital competence framework for citizens, which for the first time includes examples of media and information literacy knowledge, skills and attitudes. What does it mean to be digitally competent today?
The general assumption is that young people are digital natives, skilled users of modern digital technologies. This may be true for some, but studies have shown that young people are surprisingly inexperienced in some areas, such as assessing the authenticity of online sources, distinguishing advertisements from other content, and so forth. Unfortunately, this is not only true for young people, but for all of us internet users. In chapter three, Kari Kivinen explains why everyone should be able to judge whether online claims are reliable. This requires good general knowledge and digital information literacy, which needs to be taught and practised until it becomes as natural as riding a bicycle.
Finns are frequent users of social media services and have a very positive attitude towards them. In chapter four, Harto Pönkä analyses Finns’ use of social media through a wide range of studies and lists the latest social media trends:
- Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine boosted Finns’ social media use
- Short videos on TikTok and Instagram Reels are growing in popularity
- Young people’s messaging is moving from What’s Up to Snapchat
- Fake content and bought reactions on the rise.
The CRITICAL project, funded by the Finnish Strategic Research Council, is studying critical literacy skills of children and young people, including what supports positive development. The results will be used to develop teaching methods and tools to support critical literacy. In chapter five, Carita Kiili presents the latest online reading research projects of the Critical group and sheds light on what investigative, critical online reading can be like. The results of Critical Group’s research show that pupils and students need support to gain a deeper understanding of the reliability of evidence.
There are many differences between online and off-line environments. In digital environments, the amount of information available to anyone is breathtaking. In addition, almost anyone can effortlessly disseminate any information to large audiences in an instant. Online environments are evolving rapidly and continuously compared to traditional off-line environments. Online news content can be changed, deleted and added to all the time. In addition, inaccurate or distorted information is increasingly being disseminated online. Therefore, traditional reading skills should be complemented by new online assessment strategies and online literacy skills.
In chapter six, Kari Kivinen presents methods, which have been proven to be effective to tackle disinformation: prebunking (anticipation), debunking (correction), strategic ignorance (the skill of ignoring large numbers of search results that do not meet our information needs and are not worth reading) and lateral reading, where the reader checks the background of the online information (reliability of the author, facts, statistics, sources, etc.) from various sites and sources before delving deeper into the text at hand. Other online literacy skills include ‘civic online reasoning’ (who is behind the information, what is the evidence and what do other sources say?) and ‘click restraint strategy’ (when opening search engine results, careful pre-checking is used and focusing on relevant and information-relevant search results from reliable sources).
The digital environment can enlighten, entertain and educate us. It can help us innovate, create, earn a living, connect with others and make a difference. Given the huge potential of the digital environment, we should also take seriously our rights and responsibilities as digital citizens. In the seventh article, Minna Aslama Horowitz lists the organisations that support digital citizens’ rights:
- The UN lays the groundwork for basic principles and international forums where we can discuss our rights.
- The EU provides support through various legislative initiatives.
- Civil society organisations and groups are often at the forefront of tackling digital harms and problems.
- DigComp 2.2 also gives us a framework to understand what kind of digital citizenship skills we need.
In chapter eight, Minna Aslama Horowitz presents the framework of information disorders created by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan. Their theory distinguishes between different types of content according to their purpose (mis-, dis-, and malinformation).
In chapter 9, Joonas Pörsti, the editor-in-chief of Faktabaari, explains political propaganda as a broad form of influence, aimed at persuading the target audience to act in accordance with the propagandist’s objectives. The hallmark of propaganda is psychological manipulation, typically using disinformation, i.e. deliberately disseminated misleading information
As an antidote to propaganda, Joonas Pörsti recommends fact-checking, digital information literacy and an understanding of propaganda techniques. The impact of propaganda can be weakened by revealing the methods used in advance, so that the manipulation loses its effectiveness as the public leaves the propagandistic messages to their own devices.
In chapter 10, Pipsa Havula, a fact-checker at FaktaBaari, opens up the working methods of fact-checkers and suggests what social media users could learn from fact-checkers.
Fact-checking is the process of checking whether a claim made in public is true or not. Fact-checking helps to distinguish false, distorted, misleading or ill-founded claims from reliable and truthful information. However, it is important to remember that the interpretation of claims is not always unambiguous and that facts can also be interpreted in different ways. For this reason, fact-checking seeks to be as transparent as possible about the source of the information, so that the reader can judge the reliability of the sources and form his or her own opinion. Pipsa Havula also illustrates how anyone can check the accuracy of images and videos.
In chapter eleven, Mikko Salo, the founder of Faktabaari and the contact person with EDMO NORDIS project (Nordic Observatory for Digital Media and Information Disorder), discusses the ethical issues of fact-checking and briefly reviews the history of the development of ethical codes that complement good journalistic practice. He gives an overview of the fact-checkers’ approach to information assessment as a public service and explains how ordinary citizens can identify a fact-checker who is committed to an ethical code of transparency.
FaktaBaari has been involved in a project coordinated by Stanford University, where an international team of science and digital literacy experts examined how science education should respond to the challenges posed by the online misuse of scientific information and scientific evidence. The report considers, among other things, how to verify scientific claims made on social media and how to assess the competence of the person making the claim as an expert in the field.
In chapter twelve, Kari Kivinen presents the Stanford group’s criteria for assessing the expertise of scientists. He also presents a decision chart to facilitate the evaluation of scientific claims.
Researched knowledge is the best current understanding of the issues. It is not anyone’s opinion or personal experience, but the result of a systematic process. It changes and evolves as new research results are discovered and as our understanding grows. There is a wealth of researched information and reliable sources on the internet.
The concept of algorithms is often associated with the functions of web services and applications. But an algorithm is originally a mathematical concept. An algorithm is often a series of steps to solve a problem or solve a task. In chapter thirteen, Harto Pönkä describes different algorithms and how they work, for example on Facebook. Algorithms have an impact on the behaviour of their users, and most often this impact is seen in the content that is recommended to users. The business of online and social services is usually based on ad monetisation, i.e. users clicking on ads targeted at them. Naturally, this is encouraged by the need to keep them as happy as possible for as long as possible. It is therefore clear that algorithms are tuned to do just that, even if the services do not express it on their own. The most important thing for users’ privacy would be to know in which ways their personal data are used by the algorithms. Indeed, new EU legislative packages are in the process of requiring greater transparency from online services on how algorithms work.
Privacy is one of the most important fundamental rights in the digital age. It is based on national laws and European Union regulations such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on the one hand, and international treaties and the UN Declaration of Human Rights on the other. Privacy is primarily about the protection of private life, home and communications, but in the digital environment it is more appropriate to talk about information relating to a specific person, i.e. personal data. This is the data that is stored on the digital devices and services we use, such as search engines and social media platforms. In chapter 14, Harto Pönkä introduces us to the secrets of active and passive digital footprints.
To be a fully informed actor in the digital environment and to be able to manage privacy in it, it is necessary to understand how the different devices and services used collect information about users. It is also important to be aware of the privacy concerns of other users, so as not to unintentionally infringe their privacy in the digital environment. The article answers important questions such as:
- To whom is it safe to share my data?
- How do cookies work?
- Should you share your location?
- How can data be deleted?
In chapter 15, Tiina Härkönen, Senior Specialist at Sitra, presents the results of Sitra’s digitrail survey and the digipower investigation. The studies revealed in concrete terms the large-scale operation of data collection ecosystems, the countless different entities that process our data and the huge amount of data that is generated about us and stored for unknown companies to use. Unfortunately, the findings of both surveys also revealed how poorly data giants comply with European data protection legislation. The digipower investigation also sought to understand whether data and profiling can also be used to influence societal decision-making.
Sitra, in cooperation with experts in the field, has developed a digital behaviour assessment tool - the digiprofile test - for children, young people and adults. The test assesses three different aspects: knowledge, attitudes and online behaviour. The result is a personalised digital profile and personalised tips on how to manage your information.
In chapter 16 Jukka Vahti, Sitra’s lead expert on democracy and inclusion, discusses how to harness the power of the web to support and renew democracy in the article “Digital literacy is a key tool to defend democracy”. The rapid changes in the media environment have given rise to numerous new ways of influencing society and new forms of digital power. This has blurred the boundaries between decision-maker and citizen, influencer and influenced, and sender and receiver of messages. A troll spreading confusion with disinformation on social media wields online power in the same way as an active citizen organising online help for people fleeing war, for example. The same is true at the systemic level: digitalisation and various forms of networked power can accelerate the development of society in a democratic or undemocratic direction.
Sitra’s four-year Digital Power and Democracy project aims to increase understanding of the nature of networked, digital power and to find ways to harness that power - the power of the web - to reform democracy.
Democracy is based on a sufficiently shared understanding of reality among different people and populations, including a desire for truth, i.e. the desire to know what is true and the ability to form their own opinions based on the information available. Critical digital information literacy and, more broadly, digital civilisation are key to this. The ability to form opinions based on information is a prerequisite for participation in society.
This publication is part of EDMO Nordis project.
Elsa Kivinen (MSc), Working as assistant on Faktabaari EDU’s operations and projects, school visits, in-house text editing and translating, internal communications and some stakeholder relations in relation to projects.
Kari Kivinen, PhD, is an Education outreach expert at EUIPO. He has over 30 years of experience in international education. Since 2017 he has led the pedagogical development work at Faktabaari EDU digital information literacy service building on fact-checking methodology and co-authored and piloted the learning materials with fellow teachers around Finland and abroad. He is a member of the Commission expert group on tackling disinformation and promoting digital education. The author works for EUIPO and agency of the EU but the views expressed are purely personal and cannot be taken as being official statements of either the EU or the EUIPO.
Download the Digital Information Literacy Guide (PDF).