As part of France’s “Press and Media Week”, The Observers’ Derek Thomson joined the FRANCE 24 Debate to talk about “Truth or Fake”, our annual short program designed to alert middle and high school students to the dangers of fake news. Watch the debate below.

Media literacy is a key part of the broad fight against false news and disinformation. Regardless of who creates a fake news item -- ideological extremists, state-sponsored propagandists, or clickbait sites to make money-- it’s often mainstream web users, “friends and family”, who end up sharing the post and making it go viral. Often, too, they remain unaware that what they are sharing is factually incorrect.

Educating the public -- young and old -- about the prevalence of false news is one way to discourage people from sharing it indiscriminately. France has made media literacy compulsory for all middle and high school students since 2016.

“The fact that most young people get informed through social media and search engines is a problem,” said Nathalie Terrades, who trains teachers in media literacy for the CLEMI, France’s center for media education. “We try to educate them about how information is produced: who produces the information, where it comes from.”

Christoph Schott of AVAAZ discussed the US-based nonprofit’s new report on fake news relating to France’s “Yellow Vest” protests, noting that often on social media “lies spread faster than the truth”.

The panel also discussed closed messaging platforms like Facebook-owned WhatsApp. While users are attracted by the security of the platform’s end-to-end encryption, that same encryption makes it hard to monitor and reduce the spread of false information. “Encryption is both an important aspect of these platforms and a serious obstacle,” said Jackson Webster, a cybersecurity consultant at Legalcluster.

Derek Thomson explained how the FRANCE 24 Observers try to make the idea of fact-checking and verification interesting to young people. “We’re trying to make it sexy and fun,” he told the FRANCE 24 Debate. “That’s why we tell kids it’s like detective work. We try to make it into a game."

Tweet: The entire @Observateurs team is ready to talk about #InfoIntox [Debunked] and @FRANCE24's commitment to the #SPME2019 [Press and Media in Schools Week] with @derekthomson in English, @SarraGrira in Arabic, et @alexcapron in French! The fight against #intox [fake news] affects us all!

>> Read more on The Observers: 'Truth or Fake' 2019: Four tips for detecting fake news online