Finland wages war against fake news

May 31, 2019 17:49
Schools across Finland have formulated programs to fight fake news. Photo: Reuters

In the face of the growing menace of fake news, particularly from Russians, Finland has begun a systematic, nationwide campaign to educate its students, starting from kindergarten, on how to identify fake news.

Finland’s experience may serve as a model for other countries around the world on how to fight this scourge that has already become a national security concern.

Finnish schools teach their students about telltale signs that an online account may be a purveyor of fake news. These include massive use of stock photos, frequent misspellings in the text, and lack of detailed personal information about the account owners; also, most fake news website operators would claim to be female.

Schools have also formulated their own training programs about fake news.

For example, teachers often allow students to search for real online news topics in class, such as Brexit, the European elections, and immigration, and ask them to try to differentiate “stories” from “facts”.

As a school assignment, students are asked to put together fake news themselves in order to let them get in the fake news writer’s shoes and understand their mindset as well as techniques.

The government has also employed telecommunication experts who specialize in preventing the dissemination of fake news.

There is also an official institution specializing in checking facts known as the “Faktabaari”.

Apart from combating fake news, Faktabaari is also charged with providing teaching materials on “media literacy” in the social media era for schools across the country.

The content of the Finnish teaching materials is often a lot more practical and down-to-earth than that provided by some other countries under their own bureaucratic education systems.

Of course, Finland’s state-sponsored efforts to prevent the circulation of fake news aren’t just intended to guarantee the authenticity of news, but, even more so, to avoid foreign interference in its domestic affairs, especially from Russia.

Russo-Finnish relations have been deteriorating in recent years, and as such, efforts to fight the spread of fake news are part of Finland's intelligence activities.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 27

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal