Credit: Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

A £1 million UK government-backed scheme to combat disinformation and boost online safety amongst the most vulnerable in society is underway.

Last year, the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) awarded funding to 17 UK organisations to support young, elderly and disabled people using the internet.

Funding was split across two schemes: The Media Literacy Taskforce, targeting community-led projects, and The Media Literacy Programme Fund, where many news organisations received funding. Both of these run until January 2024.

The Media Literacy Programme Fund includes the likes of The Economist Education Foundation, The Guardian Foundation and NewsGuard. Broadly, the aim is to deliver training courses, online learning, tech solutions and mentoring schemes to vulnerable internet users.

NewsGuard, for instance, is a tech platform that puts "nutrition labels" on online articles, warning internet users about websites which have posted false or suspicious content.

Yesterday (7 February), it launched partnerships with various charities, support groups and grassroots organisations to deliver media literacy training. Staff members, carers, and the old age community will learn how to use NewsGuard's browser extension to stay protected from misinformation when browsing online, as well as receive free access to the tool.

"Many [digital inclusion initiatives] omit crucial education on navigating the overwhelming landscape of news and information. We look forward to widening access to our journalist-vetted data and offering workshops and training on how to avoid misinformation," says Veena McCoole, vice president of strategic partnerships at NewsGuard.

The Guardian Foundation, the news organisation's independent charity promoting press freedom, has meanwhile launched its Media Literacy Peer Learning Project. It supports young people aged 14-18 in the Midlands, Greater Manchester and South and West Yorkshire to develop critical analysis skills. These young people become ambassadors of the project and co-deliver the materials to their peers, enhancing their own confidence, leadership skills and media literacy understanding.

The Foundation has recruited a schools engagement officer based in the Midlands to co-ordinate the project in the target areas. Pilot phases in Leicester and Derby have been well received.

"We have been encouraged by very positive feedback from students and teachers alike, even at this early stage, and are excited about potential impact through the remainder of the project," says Kelly Walls, executive director, the Guardian Foundation.

The Economist Educational Foundation has started its targeted campaign to reach 17,000 teachers working at disadvantaged schools (those with more than a fifth of children on free school meals). Teachers will receive news literacy training and help students become critical news consumers.

Running from 10 April to 26 May 2023, it will also host its Topical Talk Festival. Across these seven weeks, schools and leading topic experts will talk about the biggest news stories, like racism, equity, sustainability and the climate crisis. This takes place on a safe online platform and 20 teachers have been confirmed to take part through government funding.

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