2,500 journalists from the Middle East and North Africa will gain access to a free 10-month training programme focusing on the challenges and opportunities presented by social media.
From December, The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) will be hosting the Social Media Solutions programme with the support of the Facebook Journalism Project.
"We are learning that more and more audiences are migrating to digital platforms for their news, and this is a very powerful way to be able to engage audiences and including the younger generation," said Zainab Imam, project manager, ICFJ. "It is definitely an area where the Middle East and North African journalists can solidify their reach."
The programme is split into four units: verification, cybersecurity, engagement and storytelling. Day-long workshops will take place in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates over the 10-month period, twice in each country.
"It’s a region which really requires this type of training and exposure to how social media can be used for verification and the spread of true information," she continued.
While misinformation is a global concern, Imam points to recent examples to suggest journalists in the Middle East and North Africa will particularly benefit from the initiative.
"One example I can think of is the diplomatic breakdown between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and those are countries that we will focus this programme on," she explained.
"When this breakdown happened, there were a lot of bots on Twitter and other social media platforms that were spreading all sorts of information that were not accurate, such as images and hashtags that did not include correct information."
The 'holistic curriculum' will directly address these concerns. Imam said journalists will learn how Google reverse image searching can be a key tool for verifying images, while training journalists to use Crowdtangle will enable them to monitor how information is spread.
The recent CrossCheck Nigeria project, also supported by The Facebook Journalism Project, similarly taught local journalists to use Crowdtangle to verify sources of information. It followed Facebook’s Community News Project in November, which rolled out Crowdtangle training as an additional component of the scheme.
"Crowdtangle has been used by journalists to keep track of who is sharing their stories - including different pages - with politicians and other news organisations," said Imam. "It’s a good way for journalists to keep track of where their stories are going, but also what else is happening about the topic that they have done a particular story on."
Much of the initiative was informed by The ICFJ’s recent survey of more than 2,700 newsroom managers and journalists from 130 countries. It shows there is a disconnect between management and journalists when it comes to the outcomes of digital training. To address these concerns, the Social Media Solutions programme included cybersecurity to its curriculum.
It looks at securing 'journalist’s digital footprint on social media' as misinformation has also occurred because of hacked email accounts. The training will go back to basics, with simple skills like understanding the importance of password strength, but also uncovering encrypted software and chat, and mastering privacy and security settings on various platforms.
The survey also underlines the need for increased technological focus in newsrooms. As little as five per cent of staff have an expertise in a technology-related field, less than a third of newsrooms use advanced digital skills and just 11 per cent of newsrooms use social media to verify information.
It is for this reason that the final two units - engagement and storytelling - educate journalists on new ways to improve the newsgathering process, form loyal following, and boost general literacy surrounding reliable journalistic sources.
Organisations outside of these regions can also benefit from this training by signing up for follow-up webinars.
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