The move to an increasingly digital environment gives students many new ways of expressing themselves and of finding and accessing diverse information and views. At the same time, it also enables an increase in the amount of various kinds of disinformation in circulation. In the framework of the PRACTICE Radicalisation Prevention Programme, The Digital Awareness module explores the spectrum of ‘information disorder’ and defines how Media and Information Literacy (MIL) helps in combating it, applying the tools related to fact-checking and giving an overview on social media verification, assessing sources and visual content.

After the completion of this module, you will be able to:

  1. Understand the different types of misinformation, disinformation and mal-information, as well as where these types sit on the spectrum of ‘information disorder’.
  2. Understand how ‘information disorder’ is affecting democracy, open societies as well as the consequences that it has on education, politics, business and private life particularly focusing on teenagers
  3. Understand how harm and falsity are ways of thinking about ‘information disorder’
  4. Understand and critique the role of technology and the ‘new gatekeepers’ (i.e. social platforms) in enabling the viral distribution of disinformation and misinformation, presented as news
  5. Distinguish fact from fiction as well as the legitimacy of potentially diverse narratives and stories within authentic journalism
  6. Understand the emergence of fact-checking as a distinct form of journalism as well as the ethics and methodology of the practice
  7. Understand the questions to ask when assessing the quality of evidence
  8. Understand how to approach a social media verification, assessing sources and visual content


Clickbait: a form of false advertisement which uses hyperlink text or a thumbnail link that is designed to attract attention and entice users to follow that link and read, view, or listen to the linked piece of online content, with a defining characteristic of being deceptive, typically sensationalized or misleading.

Fact-checking: the act of checking factual assertions in non-fictional text in order to determine the veracity and correctness of the factual statements in the text.

Fake news: a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media.

Hate speech: the public incitement to violence or hatred directed to groups or individuals on the basis of certain characteristics, including race, colour, religion, descent and national or ethnic origin.



Types of Information Disorder. Credit: Claire Wardle & Hossein Derakshan, 2017

Elements and Phases of Information Disorder. Credit: Claire Wardle & Hossein Derakshan, 2017

While the impact of fabricated contents has been well documented, contemporary social technology created an information pollution at global scale, a complex web of motivations for creating, disseminating and consuming these ‘polluted’ messages; a lot of content types and techniques for amplifying content; several platforms hosting and reproducing this content. The phenomenon of Information disorder covers satire and parody, click-bait headlines, and the misleading use of captions, visuals or statistics, as well as the genuine content that is shared out of context, imposter content and manipulated and fabricated content. For the purpose of the Module 3 of PRACTICE Radicalisation Prevention Programme, we consider the notion of information disorder as coined in a recent report commissioned by the Council of Europe. From a theoretical point of view, information disorder spectrum includes three notions: mis-information (when false information is shared, but no harm is meant), dis-information (when false information is knowingly shared to cause harm) and mal-information (when genuine information is shared to cause harm, often by moving information designed to stay private into the public sphere).

To understand any example of information disorder, it is useful to consider it in three elements: 1) Agent: who were the ‘agents’ that created, produced and distributed the example, and what was their motivation? 2) Message: what type of message was it? What format did it take? What were the characteristics? 3) Interpreter: when the message was received by someone, how did they interpret the message? What action, if any, did they take?

In addition, it is also productive to consider the life of an example of information disorder as having three phases: 

1) creation

2) production

3) distribution


An important aspect to underline is the relation between Information disorder – in particular mal-information – and hate speech. It is important that students recognize the way hate speech is expressed online and the relation between the spreading of false news and hate speech, to be able to identify and report it – if necessary. For example, frequent form of racist hate speech against certain minorities are:

  • Contrasting “us” and “them”
  • Generalization (“all refugees…” “all Muslims…”) and blanket attributions (e.g. refugees=criminals)
  • Normalization of discriminatory attitudes: “It’s no wonder that …”
  • Projecting onto minorities, problems involving all of society like sexism, criminality or housing shortage
  • Pejorative designations like “economic migrant”
  • Dehumanization of minorities, e.g. equating refugees/Roma/Muslims with insects, parasites, animals etc.
  • Lies about minorities and alleged criminality, violence, rapes, forged official papers – often disguised as an alleged personal experience
  • Cultural racism (“They simply don’t fit in here”)
  • Nationalistic relativizations: “What about our children/homeless/unemployed, etc.?”
  • Phrases like “Soon we’ll feel strangers in our own country” and “our way of life is doomed”
  • The establishment / the mendacious press-never tell us the truth anyway
  • Everyone who cares about minorities is a do-gooder, or quite probably a left-wing extremist
  • So am I to be labelled a Nazi/racist/homophobic just because I … / Where is my own freedom of speech if you delete my comments?

Often, hate speech is also disguised as satire or humour, or subsequently the excuse is proffered that it was only meant as a joke. It is important that students try to examine words, phrases, images, videos and online contents in a critical way, taking their time to analyze the way opinions are expressed and recognizing hate speech, even if it is disguised or it seems to be a “soft” statement. At the same time, it is important that young people know that they must report hate speech found online, to the social platform and/or to the authorities. Another option to explore is counter-speech, for actively engaging with the dissemination of hate speech in social networks. Check this infographic to understand the difference between hate speech and a bad joke (


The concept of Media and Information Literacy (MIL) is a commonly accepted one, applied among others by UNESCO, European Commission and Council of Europe, to stress the inter-relatedness of competencies regarding information broadly, and media in particular.

MIL encompasses “the full range of cognitive, emotional, and social competencies that include the use of text, tools and technologies; the skills of critical thinking and analysis; the practice of messaging composition and creativity; the ability to engage in reflection and ethical thinking; as well as active participation through teamwork and collaboration. It “relates to the ability to access the media, to understand and critically evaluate different aspects of the media and media content and to create communications in a variety of contexts. In addition, rising levels of hate speech, xenophobia and attacks on refugees or people from “other” religions, ethnicities and of different skin colour, based on stereotypes stoked by concocted statistic, populist rhetoric and misleading media reports, that fail to meet the standards of journalism and add to the toxic mix which MIL needs to counter. In fact, certain knowledge and skills can be particularly important when identifying and responding to online hate speech. MIL is an important educational strategy to represent a structural and sustained response to hate speech, considered in comparison, to the complexities involved in the decision to ban or censor online content or the time and cost that it may take for legal actions to produce tangible outcomes. Many of the initiatives involving MIL as a tool for combating hate speech, have as common denominator, the emphasis on the development of critical thinking skills and the ethically reflective use of social media (based on human rights principles) as a starting points for MIL skills to combate online hate speech.

MIL competencies can enhance the individuals’ ability to identify and question hateful content online, understand some of its assumptions, biases and prejudices, and encourage the elaboration of arguments to confront it.    

Composite Concept of Media and Information Literacy, UNESCO 2013, Global MIL Assessment Framework, Readness and Competencies, Paris, France


Everyone who seeks to convince others, has an incentive to distort, exaggerate or obfuscate the facts. It is important that students are equipped with a methodology to detect fact-checkable claims and evaluate evidence critically. Fact-checking can mean a proofread and verification of factual claims made by journalists in their work. However, the fact-checking that is part of this section of PRACTICE Radicalisation Prevention Programme happens not before the content is published, but after. The term describes entirely fabricated sensationalist stories that reach a wide audience by using social media algorithms to their advantage. In 2016 the most searched word on Google was ‘fake news’. This new wave concentrated on fact-checking public claims as debunking these viral hoaxes.

Generally speaking, fact-checking is composed by three phases: 1) finding fact-checkable claims, determining which major public claims (a) can be fact-checked and (b) ought to be fact-checked; 2) Finding the facts by looking for the best available evidences regarding the claim at hand; and 3) Evaluating the claim in light of the evidences, usually on a scale of truthfulness. These are obviously general steps, also because fact-checking is not an exact science and there is not a software that will examine documents and flag anytime something has been misstated as fact.

At international level, the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) has developed a code of principles that help readers discern good fact-checking from bad. These principles rely on non-partisanship and fairness, transparency of sources and funding, transparency of methodology (to select, research, write, edit, publish the facts) and a commitment to an open and honest corrections policy.

At European level, EUFACTCHECK is the fact-checking project of the European Journalism Training Association (EJTA), that intends to build a sustainable curriculum unit on fact-checking within a European network of Journalism schools and nowadays, it gathers fact-checks from more than 150 students and staff from more than 20 EJTA schools. They developed a step-by-step factchecking flowchart to help students and their teachers, to follow a rigorous and uniform methodology in factchecking. The flowcharts are dedicated to:

Steps of fact-checking, credits EJTA

EUFACTCHECK provide also a presentation about the general principles of the methodology and some exercises that can be done to get acquainted with their terminology. Tools for factchecking are developed also at national level.


It is a matter of fact that social media has changed journalism practice. Real-time audience engagement has given rise to crowdsourcing content, and even reporting tasks like verification can now be outsourced to the audience. The methods of verifying content and sources require constant updating to reflect the impacts of digital technologies, online behaviours and newsgathering practices. Today, eyewitness accounts and visual contents are amongst the most important tools a journalist and/or news publisher can draw on to tell a high impact story. The rapid growth in the amount of visual content uploaded to social platforms, is driven by three main factors: 1) the proliferation of camera-enabled smart and feature phones around the world; 2) increased access to inexpensive/free mobile data; and 3) the rise of global social networks and social messaging platforms, on which anyone can publish content and build its own audience. Thus given, students should be introduced to basic tools and techniques to learn and practice source and content verification such as:

Facebook account analysis

how to exploit online tools (e.g. Intel Techniques) to find out more about a source by analysing their Facebook account.

Twitter account analysis

how to use some guides (e.g. Africa Check) to find out more about the source by analysing their social history and thereby identify whether it is a bot tweeting.

Reverse Image Search

how to use online tools (e.g. Google Reverse Image Search, TinEye, RevEye and so on) to check if an image has been recycled to support a new claim or event. Reverse image search lets you see if one or more image databases contain an earlier version of the image but even if reverse image search does not return any results, this does not mean the image is original, and you still need to do additional checks.

YouTube Data Viewer

there is no publicly available “reverse video search” – but tools like Amnesty’s YouTuber Data Viewer, InVID and NewsCheck can detect video thumbnails for YouTube videos and a reverse image search on those thumbnails can reveal if earlier versions of the video have been uploaded.

EXIF Viewer

EXIF is metadata to visual content that includes a wide range of data created by digital cameras and phone camera’s at the point of capture, including time and date, location metadata, device data and so on. This metadata is extremely helpful in the verification process – even if videos shared on Facebook and Twitter do not display metadata and to verify , you need to have the original image file.

These tools are free and more or less simple to use and require basic skills to be applied. There are also advanced techniques to explore, such as:


the process of determining where a video or image was captured. It is possible if adequate metadata is available: EXIF data from mobile phones often reveals coordinates, and social content is occasionally geotagged. Often, geolocation requires cross-referencing visual characteristics and landmarks from the content with satellite imagery, street-view imagery and visual content available from other sources.

Weather corroboration

sources such as WolframAlpha can reveal historical weather data, allowing us to check if the weather observable in visual content is corroborated by the historical record.


Shadow analysis

one line investigation into a photo or video is to examine the internal consistency of any visible shadows (i.e. are there shadows where we should expect them to be?)


Image forensics

some tools are able to detect inconsistencies in image metadata that suggest manipulation. Tools such as Forensically, Photo Forensics and IziTru can carry out clone detection and error level analysis that could provide useful insights.  


Teachers can approach this Module presenting theoretical learning (e.g. using seminars, readings or lecture-based presentations) and supplemented by practical exercises (e.g. working groups). The main idea is to involve a 60-90 minute theoretical component and a 90 minute-2 hour workshop or practical activities. The sessions can be expanded, contracted and/or divided across different days, depending on the teaching/learning framework of the classroom/students group concerned.

Herewith follow several pedagogical approaches that could be applied: 

Issue-Enquiry approach

Issue-enquiry learning is a student-centred learning approach that incorporates many of the features associated with enquiry learning, problem solving and decision making where learners acquire new knowledge and skills through the following enquiry stages: identification of the issue; recognition of underlying attitudes and beliefs; clarification of the facts and principles behind the issue; locating, organizing and analyzing evidence; interpretation and resolution of the issue; taking action and reconsidering the consequences and outcomes from each phase. Examples of the issue-enquiry approach in MIL include: exploring gender and race portrayals through media analysis; exploring privacy and the media through primary and secondary document analysis; exploring cyber-bullying through ethnographic research.

Problem-based learning (PBL)

It is a curriculum development and instructional system that simultaneously develops students’ interdisciplinary knowledge bases and skills, as well as critical thinking and problem solving strategies. It is a highly structured, cooperative learning mode to enhance both individual and collective knowledge by engaging students in critical and deep enquiry of real-life problems. An example of problem-based learning in MIL includes designing an effective social marketing campaign for a particular audience.

Case study

This method involves an in-depth examination of a single instance or event. It requires a systematic way of looking at the events, collecting data, analyzing information, and reporting the results, which in turn supports enquiry learning among students. Students could undertake a case study of the marketing campaign strategy and release of a very successful film, bestseller book, or other high profile media product.

Cooperative learning

It refers to the instructional approach that puts students together to work towards accomplishing shared goals. Cooperative learning can range from simple paired work to more complex modes such as project learning, jigsaw learning, guided peer questioning and reciprocal teaching. An example of cooperative learningin MIL: Working collaboratively in a wiki space.

Textual analysis

Students learn to undertake textual analysis through identifying the codes and conventions of various media genres. With this type of semiotic analysis, understanding of key concepts can be increased. Example: students could be asked to select a piece of media text that is of interest to them. This could be a news article, a video from YouTube, or a video clip from an online news source. Put students in groups and guide them in analysing the audience, purpose, author, technique/textual features, and context.


With this approach, students take information presented in one medium and ‘convert’ it into another medium. This pedagogical approach can take many different forms and be used in a variety of media settings. Students can take a newspaper article they have written about an incident at the university and convert it into a podcast radio news story. Or they view a brief section of a children’s film and then work in small groups to draw a storyboard that corresponds to the scene, identifying the shots, angles and transitions that have been used.


 It is frequently used as a strategy in the film and media curriculum units. The tutor’s use simulation to demonstrate to theirstudents what media learning ‘looks like’. Examples include: students taking on the roles of a documentary film team producing a youth-oriented television programme, or of radio/Internet-based journalists interviewing a media teacher for a podcast., or of a marketing team from the university, making a promotional video for prospective students about life at university.


HATE SPEECH (EN) It is the Unit 4 Breaking Down Hate Speech in the framework of Lesson Plan Digital Literacy and Citizenship in a Connected Culture, realized by The GoodPlay Project carried out by Harvard Graduate School of Education. It brings together essential questions, lesson overview, Learning Objectives, Materials and Preparation about hate speech (IT) Parole O_Stili is a non-profit association, founded in Trieste in July 2017 that seeks to build a sense of awareness and responsibility in Internet users, encouraging them to share and maintain the values expressed in the “Manifesto of Non-Hostile Communication”. Their website contains an entire section devoted to educational tools: there are materials, educational events for teachers, book for secondary schools, materials dedicated to children, awareness raising meetings for students in schools and also a book for middle schools (work in progress). The contents are based on the Italian context but are also available in English (IT) This is the Italian task force of the Young People Combating Hate Speech Online, a CoE project aimed at raise the awareness of young people against intolerance and violent speech online. There are materials and contents such as videos and link to other European working groups within the No Hate Speech Movement

INFORMATION DISORDER, FACT-CHECKING AND SOCIAL MEDIA VERIFICATION (EN) This is the website created in honor of International Fact-Checking Day (2nd, April). It embeds lessons, articles, quiz and other interesting materials about fact-checking (EN) This is the link to the flowchart developed by EJTA within the project. It is a very interesting and useful tool to analyse claim and guide the reader/user in developing its own idea about the statement/news analyzed in order to properly carry out a fact-checking verification of the contents (EN) This is the report of the analysis carried out by Stanford History Education Group in assessing students about their civic online reasoning – the ability to judge the credibility of information that floods young people’s smartphones, tablets and computers. It collects the slides, exercises, questions and materials used to carry out the evaluation thus constituting a valid food for thought (EN) It is a virtual platform where students learn how to navigate the challenging information landscape by mastering the skills of news literacy. The virtual classroom’s lessons help educators equip their students with the tools to evaluate and interpret the news and learn how to determine what news and other information to trust, share and act on. There is a free version that enable a unique teacher login, a teacher guide with national standards alignment and comprehensive blended e-learning strategies, including PBL and civic engagement extensions as well as customer support (IT) Factcheckers is a cultural association and the first Fact-checking project in Italy. Their website contains materials and resources for different target audience’s, such as a card game to enhance critical thinking; an entertaining guide for internet users; an interactive quiz to let people know if they are able to distinguish a fake from a real news, social media account and so on; a guide to recognize fake news; a video for explorers of the Digital Ocean; the decalogue of the news explorer; social cards to be shared on Facebook and Twitter; an handbook for young fact checkers and other more contents.

(EN) This website provides access to an international, multimedial and multi-language media and information literacy (MIL) teaching resources tool for educators, researchers and individuals. The resources (13 modules) can be shared, adapted, used and re-uploaded by users at will.
(IT) This is the learning module related to BRICKs– Building Respect on the Internet by Combating Hate Speech project, an EU funded project carried out in five European countries and aimed to combat the spread of online hate speech against migrants and minorities through media literacy and active involvement of web users and web content producers. There are 13 working units and each one is enriched by monitoring and evaluation tools as well as restitution methods. For each unit there is a general overview, objectives, instructions, methodologies, materials, strategies to involve students and so on.


It is encouraged that teachers incorporate local/regional, linguistically and culturally relevant materials and examples into the activities – both the theoretical and practical ones. At the same time, teachers should leave out things deemed inappropriate/offensive for a certain student/group of students and/or unproductive. Also, the replacement of text or exercise materials which is considered inadequate for whatever reason, is an option. In addition, it is very important to update the examples and the materials given, to make the lessons purposeful, relevant and, if possible, stimulating for the participants. Another important point is to adapt materials , if in the classroom are present native (or near native) level speakers with beginners. In this case, teachers can: rewrite reading texts and grade the language accordingly for different levels; pre-teach difficult vocabulary and leave it written on the board for students to refer to; draw attention to pictures and visual prompts where appropriate; reduce eventual word limit in written exercises; encourage use of dictionaries; pair or group weaker students with stronger ones; give students time to gather their ideas before a role play or discussion; grade students on the effort they make rather than their ability.  For learners who need extra support with some tasks, appoint helpers such as peers or a special educator/teaching assistant. They can provide assistance in a variety of ways, depending on the learner’s needs: the helper can model the steps of a task before the student performs it on his/her own; helpers can provide additional prompts (verbal, gestual, or partial physical) when students need them; the helper can complete some of the tasks steps with or for the student; the helper can give the student immediate feedback and additional encouragement to reinforce successes. Finally, make sure that the available equipment (e.g. computers, smartphones, interactive whiteboards, tablets and so on) is suitable for the assigned tasks and, if not, tailor the activities on the available ones.


Amadeu Antonio Foundation, Hate Speech against refugees in Social Media- Recommendations for Action, 2016

Chan; Jones; Jamieson; Albarracìn, Debunking: A Meta-Analysis of the Psychological Efficacy of Messages Countering Misinformation, APS, 2017, available there [last access 29/05/2019]

Commission of the European Communities, Study on the Current Trends and Approaches to Media Literacy in Europe, 2009

Council of Europe report DGI(2017)09; Information disorder: toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policy making, 2017

Council of Europe, Mapping of Media Literacy Practices and Actions in EU-28, 2016

Graves L., Cherubini F., The rise of fact-checking sites in Europe, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2016

Guess, A. Nagler,J., Tucker, J., Less than you think: Prevalence and predictors of fake news dissemination on Facebook, 2019 , available there,%20Blogs,%20and%20Fake%20News,%20Teens%20Reject%20Journalistic%20%E2%80%9CObjectivity%E2%80%9D.pdf[last access 29/05/2019]

IFCN, The commitments of the code of principle, available here [last access 28/05/2019]

Marchi, R., With Facebook, Blogs, and Fake News, Teens Reject Journalistic “Objectivity”, Jourhnal of Communication Inquiry, 2012, available there,%20Blogs,%20and%20Fake%20News,%20Teens%20Reject%20Journalistic%20%E2%80%9CObjectivity%E2%80%9D.pdf[last access 29/05/2019]

Nossel, S. Faking news: fraudloent news and the fight for truth, PEN America, 2017

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Digital News Report, 2018

Stanford History Education Group, Evaluation Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning, 2016

Stencel, M. Fact-checking booms as numbers grow by 20 percent, Duke Reporters Lab, 2017

Tambini, D., How advertising fuels fake news. LSE Media Policy Project Blog, 2017

UNESCO, Journalism, ‘Fake news’ and disinformation, Handbook for Journalism Education and Training, 2018

Wardle, C., Information Dirosder: The Essential Glossary, 2018, available here [last access 29/05/2019]

Weedon, J., Nuland W., and Stamos, A., Information Operations and Facebook, Facebook Newsroom, 2017

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Coordinator – Centro per lo Sviluppo Creativo Danilo Dolci – Italy