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Current Events for High School Media Literacy: The Russia-Ukraine War

Breaking news events lend themselves to a high amount of misinformation. When people are scrambling to cover an event as it unfolds- whether they are professional journalists or just regular people on social media- it can be tough to sort out and verify facts quickly enough. With the instantaneous nature of social media documentation, the likelihood of false information spreading is even higher. These are really important points to cover while teaching media literacy in high school.

It’s crucial to cover current events in the context of media literacy instruction because your students are no-doubt encountering misinformation and fake news surrounding the unfolding war in Ukraine right now. Our news feeds are full of tidbits about details of the war, President Zelensky, Putin, and countless opinions and calls to action for support. Showing your students how to approach this news with a critical mind can help them sort fact from fiction. Here are some suggestions of content to cover in your high school English or history classes if you want to discuss the role of media in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Fake Social Media Posts

This is great opportunity to reiterate how quickly misinformation can spread on social media. This video that claims to be of Zelensky and his wife singing and playing guitar has been wildly circulated on various social media platforms lately.

It’s been completely debunked, and this is the perfect example of how social media posts can spread like wildfire even if they are completely false. Ask students why people might be inclined to share this post. The original video can be found below:

A great follow up assignment for students would be to have them find a newer social media post that has to do with the war and fact check it themselves, or collect posts related to the war that have already been shown to be false.

Media Issues in Russia

Russia has recently introduced a new law that sends Russian citizens to prison for up to 15 years for spreading what they deem to be fake news surrounding Russian military operations in Ukraine. A woman was recently arrested for protesting the invasion of Ukraine. This article from The Guardian explains what happened. This incident brings up the role of censorship in the war.

“Her statement marks the first time that an employee from Russian state media has publicly denounced the war as the country continues its crackdown on anti-war dissent. So strict is the current wave of censorship that other news programmes blurred out the message on Ovsyannikova’s sign in their own reports on the incident.” –from The Guardian.

This is a good opportunity to ask students about protest and censorship. What is the goal of censorship? Is it effective? What should protest look like?

Here’s more coverage of this event from NPR: A Russian who protested the war on live TV refused to retract her statement in court

And more about current censorship efforts in Russia: How Russia Is Stopping You From Knowing What It Doesn’t Want You To Know

A New Type of Disinformation?

This is a really interesting piece from ProPublica that discusses a type of disinformation that is relatively new. In the Ukraine Conflict, Fake Fact-Checks Are Being Used to Spread Disinformation discusses the idea of the “fake fact-check.” The article discusses fake debunking videos that are being shown on Russia media outlets. The videos claim to debunk fake posts out of Ukraine but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the fake videos were ever circulating. The idea behind this fake fact-check is to create a distrust of any anti-Russian media.

This highlights how important it is to really take a critical look at who is creating media and for what purpose. Reviewing these ideas with students can help them dig deeper into the information they consume and spread about the war between Russia and Ukraine.

For more about teaching media literacy skills in the high school classroom, check out this post for suggestions and free teaching resources.

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