Keeping It Real: digitally resilient youth

Clickbait, hoaxes and fake news: the internet is overflowing with seducing or even misleading information. To make young people more resilient, with the Keeping It Real project, Free Press Unlimited is researching the digital media behaviour of thirteen year olds in Mexico, South Africa and Sweden.

On social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, information comes at you from all angles. The reliability of all that online information varies considerably. Sometimes deliberately misleading “fake news” can hardly be distinguished from objective, independent information.

Young people spend hours every day on social media and the information they come across there forms their worldview. But to what extent can they distinguish between reliable information, biased reporting and fake news? Because critical citizens are crucial for every democracy, Free Press Unlimited started the Keeping It Real project with the support of the Swedish Postcode Lottery last year to find out more about the digital media behaviour of thirteen year olds on three continents. Based on this research, Free Press Unlimited will work with experts and young people to develop ideas for programmes that teach young people how to become more online media-literate.

Research gap

In countries like the Netherlands attention is already being given to these types of media literacy projects. Apps, games and teaching programmes teach young people about the difference between reliable information and information that, for political or commercial purposes, tries to influence or mislead an audience.

But outside Europe and the United States, these types of programmes are less common, and hardly anything is known about how teenagers behave online. While it is precisely there that internet use is growing explosively. With Keeping It Real, Free Press Unlimited wants to take a first step towards closing that research gap. The research will focus on South Africa, Mexico and Sweden, to be able to compare these results with a western country.

‘Almost all of the research on media literacy among young people comes from Europe and the US,’ says Free Press Unlimited’s Evaline Schot, who is leading the project. ‘We want to investigate whether young people in countries where information is less easily available, or where it can even be dangerous to say certain things, judge the information on social media differently.’


Last year, Keeping It Real started with an extensive preliminary investigation. Schot: ‘We spoke with numerous experts and read a lot of existing research. We expect that the attitude of young people can vary greatly, depending on their situation: when do they assume a critical attitude or actually trust information? That would mean that you cannot simply export a media literacy project from Sweden to a country like Mexico, where violence is much more prevalent.’

This hypothesis will be tested in the three countries in the coming year. We use the knowledge we gain about digital media use during hackathons, where experts and young people themselves think about tools that help them better evaluate the quality of online information. ‘We want to help young people evaluate information as critical citizens,’ says Schot.

Since: 2018
Donor: Swedish Postcode Lottery
Contribution: € 191,000

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