Young news warriors in Kerala are learning to bust fake news, one quiz at a time

Many schools in Kannur were part of an anti-fake news campaign by the district collector, which ended with a quiz last week.
Young news warriors in Kerala are learning to bust fake news, one quiz at a time
Young news warriors in Kerala are learning to bust fake news, one quiz at a time

A WhatsApp forward with a picture of Mr Bean, played by Rowan Atkinson, along with a message supposedly by ‘BBC News’ tells readers that he is dead. “RIP 1995 - 2016...BBC Breaking News: Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) died at 58 after doing suicide,” the forward reads. Within a matter of moments, the timer starts ticking and students get 30 seconds to check if the news is fake. 

The above was one of the many questions asked in the final round of a quiz hosted by Kannur Collector Mir Mohammed Ali, which attempts to fight the spread of fake news, by helping students identify the same. A fitting end to his year-long campaign called Satyameva Jayate, which fought fake news spread through WhatsApp forwards and social media, Mir and his team quizzed students from 45 schools to test if they could identify misinformation quickly. 

“We had several rounds and 2 from each school could participate. In the final round, kids were given smartphones to google the information presented and do a live fact check,” he said.

Satyameva Jayate, the campaign which began last year to dispel non-factual information spread via social media, was a big hit. It covered over 200 schools in just Kannur. This year, Mir and his team plan to cover 200 more schools within the district. 

Lots of fake ads, warnings (Forward this to at least 5 people or else...), misinformation on food (Do not eat Apple seeds, they contain poison) are spread via message forwards and Mir says the campaign was to nip these Whatsapp myths in the bud. How? By getting school going children to understand that they are fake. 

Students of classes 8-12 were taught not just to identify fake news, but also to react to them, and were given training on the different laws on misinformation.

“We taught them to always politely ask for the source of the information and to tell people to not share information without a proper source, as sometimes even parents and older people blindly read and forward fake news,” he added.

They were even made to understand the concept of click baits, and how social media makes money by enticing people to click on links. 

“Children don’t get that Facebook makes money with their supposedly harmless click, and how click-bait stories are intentionally put out to get users to engage,” Mir said.

The quiz

On Monday, kids who underwent training during the campaign participated in the final quiz. Though some questions such as the one on Rowan Atkinson mentioned earlier might seem like a cake walk (a simple google search would tell us that he is alive and acting in shows), several others were pretty challenging. 

Sample these

(The above question could not be googled and had to be answered by children. Students were asked to fact check these forwards using a smartphone.) 

The first round was a written test from which 6 teams from 6 schools were selected to participate in the final round 

Speaking to TNM, Siddharth Praveen, a class 11 finalist from Amritha Vidyalayam, Kakkanad, said the quiz made him aware of the concept of credible information sources.  

“We looked for credible links to find out if a piece of news was true or fake. For example, they showed us a pic of a twin-headed snake. We googled and it and a Manorama link popped up, helping us confirm that the information was true. Likewise, if you see the Rowan Atkinson slide, the text mentions BBC but the link underneath isn’t BBC - therefore, making it not credible,” he said.

Picture courtesy: Manorama

Anti MR vaccine lobby sparked the idea of the campaign

Mir recollects that back in October 2017, the huge lobby by parents against the Measles Rubella vaccine drive in the state schools was what sparked the campaign. 

“Most of the opposition from parents was fuelled by fake news and this trickled down to the children. When we asked them, children said that they did not want the MR vaccine because it was harmful and not effective and that they will not able to have children. This was false propaganda and we began telling them that it is not true,” Mir added

Once the district administration began educating children, MR vaccine consent rate in schools immediately began rising, he said. This is when the idea of the campaign originated.

Kerala’s smart classrooms aided the campaign 

70 to 80% of classrooms in government schools are equipped with a screen, projector and speakers. Mir says that this majorly aided the campaign as students were exposed to visual content during training.

“Teachers projected visual content such as screenshots, clickbait links etc so that students could identify them. Without the smart classroom infrastructure, the campaign would not have been effective. Even the schools would not have come on board so easily,” he said.

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