Current world events have amplified a growing concern about the spread of disinformation. While countless resources, tools and channels to communicate are just a few clicks away for many, the internet’s freedoms have also created challenges. Internet platforms have become the fastest conduit for spreading news—whether it contains truth or not. The ability to find information at our fingertips has created the perfect opportunity for trickery and false narratives which can negatively impact how world events are viewed. In this climate, CIRA remains focused on building and sustaining a strong and secure internet for Canadians.
CIRA’s goal is a trusted internet for Canadians. And that goal extends well into our Community Investment Program Grants. We have funded and supported digital literacy projects that are centered around building skills to detect disinformation online. Here are a few examples we’d like you to know about:
Canadian Association of Journalists
Last year, CIRA funded a project led by the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) to create disinformation detection training courses for journalism students. CAJ identified an urgent need to intervene as they saw an increasing number of nefarious actors in the digital ecosystem looking to generate social division with conspiracy theories and other forms of misinformation.
In January, CAJ began rolling out training sessions called “Misinfo 101” to post-secondary students across Canada. Spanning over the year, these training programs will take place in each province or territory, in partnership with a journalist or digital expert. While COVID-19 pandemic misinformation may have spurred this idea in the first place, the training sessions have a wealth of content to contend with as disinformation is heightening around emerging events like the ‘Freedom Convoy’ and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. More information on this project can be found here.
MediaSmarts, everyone’s go-to digital literacy research and tools organization in Canada, has been a long-time CIRA funding partner. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization resurrected their Break the Fake campaign in the hopes that it would spread awareness of fake news in the media. Break the Fake brings back the beloved House Hippo and aims to teach children how to spot misleading information online. Through online videos, quizzes and helpful resources students are taught how to accurately fact-check online content. This campaign is among many aimed at teaching students how to spot false information found online. A full list of their campaigns can be found here.
From an academic research perspective, CIRA supported a project at McGill University’s Faculty of Education to address the shortfall in disinformation knowledge amongst students. Through a needs assessment, data showed that students lacked the means to assess online information. Researchers led a project to create a handbook, along with three training sessions, to develop the digital literacy skills of K-12 students. The initial sessions focused on the structure of the internet, how to use keywords in search engines and how to evaluate web pages. The final session allowed students to reflect on online content by evaluating conflicting statements and the quality of information. By using pre-tests and post-tests, data found that students became significantly more aware of disinformation tactics online after attending the programs. The data gathered through the training programs informed the creation of a handbook for detecting disinformation online.
As these project examples convey, disinformation online is a growing issue for Canadians. CIRA is proud to fund projects that develop online skills and help more Canadians stay informed and aware while navigating the internet.
CIRA’s Grants Program covers four funding areas: digital literacy, community leadership, infrastructure and cybersecurity. Our annual call for applications is open now till April 13, 2 p.m. ET. To find out more about project eligibility and how to apply for a CIRA grant, visit our website: https://www.cira.ca/community-investment-program/grants