Media Awareness and Literacy Support for Youth in Nigeria: Working Toward Responsible Digital Citizenship
by Rasheedah Liman
In October 2020, I attended a virtual Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (Alumni TIES) on the topic of “Shaping the Global Narrative on Media Literacy.” During the seminar, I was able to network with exchange alumni participants from all over the world. We were able to share ideas, access resources, increase our knowledge of media literacy, and develop skills through interactive webinars and small group discussions. The facilitators at the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational Cultural Affairs, Alumni TIES, World Learning, and NAMLE did a fantastic job of arranging for media literacy experts who shared their current work and necessary tools for media literacy education.
Prior to attending the Alumni TIES seminar, I had wondered about the possibility of developing a project to engage the youth of Nigerian tertiary institutions in media literacy education and increase their awareness of fake news, hate speech, and misinformation. Over 49% of students in tertiary institutions in Nigeria are said to be either victims of, or perpetrators of hate speech, cyber-bullying, misinformation, or internet fraud. Available data also suggest that Nigerian campuses are becoming breeding grounds for internet fraudsters and religious fanatics. The national government has constantly approached these issues from the angle of policy changes. However, these policy changes have had limited success at the local community level. It became clear to me, as an educator, that a more strategic approach of deploying media literacy skills to Nigerian youth is needed to transform the way youth consume and share media and information online.
Through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State I was able to create the community engagement project, “Media Awareness and Literacy Support for Youth in Nigeria: Toward a Responsible Citizenship.” This project aims to engage 150 students from Ahmadu Bello University, one of Nigeria’s largest universities, in media literacy awareness and education. To effectively achieve our project’s objectives, the project was split into three phases: resource mapping and workshop tool development, awareness/sensitization workshop with youth, and advocacy meetings with the university’s central management team to include the media literacy workshop (MLW) in the general studies curriculum.
By the end of May 2021, phases one and two of the project were concluded. The awareness/sensitization workshop adopted a participatory approach to empower participants with media literacy skills. The trainers for the workshop were selected from a rich repertoire of experienced academics, media practitioners, and technocrats with several years of experience in media literacy engagements. The workshop exposed participants to hands-on training in Fake News, Geography of Netizenship, I-Reporting, E-engagements, Globalization, and Nationalism. During these two phases, we implemented the following project activities:
1. A four-day, “train-the-trainers” workshop on Media Advocacy and Intermediality: Those trained were the core members of the project. Materials obtained from the Alumni TIES workshops largely helped to frame the content of the training, in addition to other media literacy resources.
2. Development of the Course Materials: Our project team with the aid of the trainers developed course materials in the identified, thematic areas based on best practices from the United States and the needs of the target population.
3. Media Literacy Workshop for 150 students: The project team identified 50 student champions/media literacy ambassadors from the workshop and created mentorship working groups.
In addition to the training, 50 students were selected to be champions of the project to help scale up the campaign for responsible digital citizenship. As part of the follow-on and sustainability measures of the project, champions are expected to engage in monthly fact-checking and counter misinformation online using the skills they learned during the workshop. Champions are also part of a WhatsApp group where consistent interaction on fact-checking tasks are monitored. One of the tools in which the participants found particularly useful was the “Currency, Relevance, Accuracy and Purpose” (CRAP) test. The training materials and manuals were shared with participants as resources for future reference. As the project coordinator, I was especially happy about the enthusiasm of the students toward learning and active participation.
The students shared their stories about fake news and misinformation as both victims and perpetrators. A significant outcome of the workshop, which resonates with the goal of the project is an article written on Facebook by one of the participants; he captured the essence of the training in the following words:
I must confess, the program was insightful in the area of information consumption and production in the 21st Century. I learnt a lot. Overtime, I have been an advocate against the spread of fake news and misinformation. I have questioned the rationale for the many misleading headlines used by media organizations to incite and general traffic (SIC). I believe concerted effort must be geared towards fighting the menace of infodemic. (https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=4013256498764533&id=100002406669242)
Please read some other participants’ views of the project:
One of the challenges we encountered was the restriction on large gatherings as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, to effectively navigate the challenge, the project adopted a blended/multimedia learning approach. Participants attended the workshop both physically and virtually. One hundred participants joined the workshop virtually while fifty participants were physically present at the workshop venue in Ahmadu Bello University. The student participants represented different study backgrounds, ethnicities, and gender. Another project challenge is that we realized that activities on new media channels could easily create crises and influence government policies in regard to human rights and freedom. An example is the recent government ban of Twitter in Nigeria. Most young people are wondering how to best express themselves without getting sanctioned. This Media Literacy project is therefore a welcome development for the students to learn how to navigate their online presence.
As the project moves into its final phase of advocacy engagements with stakeholders, I am very hopeful about this project’s long-term impact on tertiary institutions in Nigeria. I believe our media literacy ambassadors, educators, and institutions can forge a sustainable positive impact together. Our project has created a community of young people that go beyond their WhatsApp group to establish solidarity and become the vanguard for media literacy education in Nigeria.
Media Awareness and Literacy Support for Youth in Nigeria: Toward a Responsible Citizenship is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.