Fighting the Infodemic – Media Education in Hong Kong
For Hong Kong, 2019 and 2020 were full of challenges. While most citizens were deeply frustrated, media education flourished.
The Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement broke out in June 2019. It was the longest-lasting protest movement in the city. While the movement had not ended, Covid-19 came. These two incidents had different impacts on Hong Kong society, but there was one common influence – fake news abound.
Both the pro-extradition groups and the anti-extradition groups spread selective messages and images to spin public opinion. As the local media described, “It is hard for the public to know what to believe, as both camps present skewed versions of protest events.” During the pandemic, Hong Kong has been flooded with a lot of Covid-19 misinformation.
Media education has been gradually developing in Hong Kong in the past 20 years. But its development slowed down a bit in the past decade. Due to the latest socio-political disturbance and the pandemic, media education got back the momentum. Teachers, parents, government officials, and the general public are concerned with fact-checking, and an apparent quest for news analytical skills.
Media literacy advocates in town feel ambivalent. On the one hand, they are happy because media literacy is once again valued by society. On the other, they are sad and frustrated by the craziness in the media environment. Yet, it is appreciated that media literacy educators are trying their best to fight against the infodemic.
The movement and the pandemic stimulated a rapid increase in online media consumption, and aroused the concern of constructive use of digital media. Facing the new media ecosystem, media literacy educators need to learn new knowledge and develop new orientations.
In the past, their work concentrated on teaching media literacy to school students. Now, they have to rethink their target groups. Misinformation and fake news affect every citizen’s value, behavioral pattern, perception of the government, and the vision of Hong Kong’s future.
There is a need to promote media literacy for all citizens. For instance, research finds that senior citizens are the most vulnerable group affected by fake news. They use instant messaging apps a lot, and share information, particularly health and safety information, without verification. They really need media literacy training.
Media education in Hong Kong has always been a grassroots social movement. Facing major crises, media literacy practitioners understand that they could not work alone. They need to collaborate and share expertise. Hong Kong is just a city.
Media literacy educators know each other well and are quite willing to conduct media education programs together. In the past two years, various media literacy activities were held by schools, universities, youth organizations and NGOs.
There are also newcomers to the informal network, such as the Mars Media Academy and the Hong Kong News Expo. They are lining up schools and social groups to hold various media literacy workshops.
In this city, four fact-checking centers have already been set up to break down rumors and verify news reports. They debunked rumors, including young girls providing sex services to male protesters, police killing demonstrators on the subway, and gargling with salt water can wipe out the coronavirus.
The pandemic has quickened the pace to move into an all internet world. Artificial intelligence, algorithms, and big data will play a vital role soon. Media literacy educators here are accustomed to dealing with traditional media but do not have a deep understanding of artificial intelligence and algorithms. They need to learn new things and recruit tech-savvy young experts for their work.
The post-movement and post-pandemic Hong Kong will be a different world. Media educators need to acquire new thinking in order to continue their mission. Israeli scholar, Yuval Noah Harari, said, “Change is the only constant.”
He suggested that people need to embrace the unknown and uncertainty in the 21st century. In Hong Kong, there are a lot of enthusiastic media literacy educators. They will surely adapt to the change and continue to serve society.