Digital literacy, our “vaccination” against hoaxes

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Devie Rahmawati
University of Indonesia’s Social Vocation Researcher

IO – Communications data in Indonesia assert that the most-frequently used electronic devices are television (95%) and cellular phone (91%). This is because Indonesia has such a large geographical area, so that digital infrastructure – and consequently, people’s consumption of digital facilities – is uneven throughout the archipelago. Furthermore, the more senior generations find it more comfortable to consume a passive medium like television. However, as digital technology is very much personalized and accessible 24 hours a day, it is much quicker and more immediate to create and consume information digitally.

Digital literacy is needed in order to allow individuals and groups (families, communities, orga­nizations, businesses, etc.) to protect themselves from unwanted invasive content and inappropriate communications in the digital world. The effort to educate the people so that they possess digital and media competence is far from simple. There are many considerations to highlight – educational methods, digital knowledge, community quirks, and political conditions. The impact of low digital literacy includes mammoth consumption of violence and pornographic content, games and social media addiction, and the widespread and immediate distribution of hoaxes that are able to split the nation into conflicting groups. Indonesia’s internet user population is 150 million people. About half of these are bombarded with at least one hoax a day: 14.7% get more than one hoax a day, 34.6% once a day, 32.5% once a week, and 18.2% get hoaxed once a month.

Hoaxes are created both organically and non-organically. Organically: for instance, when public anxiety notes many protests, this will push them to share whatever information they have about such protests, because they sincerely do not want anything bad to happen. On the other hand, an example of non-organic creation is an economic incentive from a digital platform. Say, for example, that a platform would pay you IDR 350,000.00 for each 1000 likes that your posting generates. Naturally, in this case people would be encouraged to produce information – no matter how dubious, no matter if it is even untrue – as long as it goes viral. Furthermore, political interest, as demonstrated by Donald Trump when he actually said that “False news is news that is not to my liking,” encourages people to make all sorts of claims of “truth” that end up splitting the people.

Social media, which provides options for stating one’s “likes”/ “dislikes” and other features for expressing one’s opinions and feelings with things like emoji, is more than a tool for providing and responding to information. It is now frequently used to express anger and hatred against other groups targeted as an enemy (Romano, 2019). Polarization in society due to the spread of hoaxes becomes inevitable. Efforts to reunite the people will naturally take a long time (Bruns, 2019). In response to this situation, we frequently take the easy way by stating that it is all the fault of technology that the political situation heats up. However, this is not true. Whatever technological advance may occur depends on who uses it and why. It’s the people, not the technology (Bruns, 2019).

The main challenge in digital education is that it is a complex issue. It takes a great investment of time and money to improve the public’s digital knowledge and skills, to approach senior generations, and to mitigate ever-worsening inequalities. Digital challenges that we all face include mission creep, legibility, and postponing the positives. Other challenges faced by many communities in terms of capacity and sustainability in maintaining digital capacity-building are related to proving and evaluation.

Indonesia specifically faces challenges related to pluralism: its people are of pluralistic groups, cultural back­grounds, and structural condition. A plurality of regions, economic conditions, tribal groups, religious affiliation and races encourages inequality in digital penetration. In fact, our people’s heritage is one of an oral culture. This results in a tendency to feel lazy to dig deeper, to confirm and validate information deeply. This tendency is even worsened by our educational structure, which tends to prioritize quantitative targets such as memorization and grades, instead of qualitative targets such as the ability to reflect about and adapt to changing conditions such as technological development and climate change.

Despite their severity, these issues can still be resolved. One possible strategy is by implementing the 5R:  Rights (freedom of speech, freedom of access to information, right to protection from vilification); Respect (Respect yourself and others, listen across difference, allow stakeholders a voice in the conversation); Responsibility (engage fair play, show support for others, create positive online environments); Reasoning (critical reasoning skills to know when to stop and question information, how to check facts and how to communicate corrections in meaningful and appropriate ways); and Resilience (develop coping strategies and constructive responses to falsehoods, criticisms, confrontation and provocation) (Romano, 2019).

Finland represents a success story in the implementation of digital literacy programs. The Finns are strongly inoculated against the hoax virus. What about Indonesia? Along with Ahmad Rozali, Agnes Theodora, Alimatul Qibtiyah, and Rorie Asyari (winner of Australia Awards 2019), I describe the situation in Indonesia, called a “Social Media Capital Country” by The Guardian newspaper (2016) using “The Hypocrisy Model”.

In this model, it is noted that on macro and external levels, just about all organizations and com­munities in Indonesia claim that they implement 5R strategies. However, at micro and personal levels, there is actually very little implementation. Our national situation from the start of political contests in 2017 until now clearly reveals that our people are actually very weak in practicing Rights, Respect, Responsibility, Reasoning and Resilience.

Despite all this, many communities in Indonesia have already begun to take the initiative to help the Government establish digital literacy in the nation: Siber Kreasi, Mafindo, Santri Anti-hoax, Program Saring Sebelum Sharing, Kelas Jurnalis Cilik, Klinik Digital Vokasi UI, Digital Heroes and Avenger Award, and fast-checking by many online media. The general solution offered by these groups is to help people to act like the ocean when receiving information in their personal space, whether positive or negative. No matter the information, the individual remains unaffected. At a social level, they help individuals become clearing houses of information – in other words, they teach people to process all information before reacting to and distributing them. They teach people to divide information into positive and negative information, useful and useless information, and to assess the impact of sharing the information accordingly.