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Media literacy education in South Africa can help combat fake news - here’s what’s needed

Online platforms are replete with examples of false information – from WhatsApp messages punting some miraculous cure for COVID, to social media posts claiming a politician said something they didn’t.

It’s increasingly common in South Africa. More than 75% of South Africans say they regularly come across political news they think is false. Eight out of 10 South Africans believe that disinformation (or “fake news”) is a problem or a serious problem in the country.

Researchers and policy makers have been working on strategies to counter disinformation for years. Some policymakers have suggested new regulations or pressuring technology companies to do more. These actions often raise the question of how to balance free speech and regulation.

Another option is to increase the levels of media literacy among citizens. Media literacy refers to the ability to read media texts critically, understanding the relationship between media and audiences, and knowing how media production processes work. In different parts of the world, research has shown that making people more media literate can help reduce the spread of disinformation.

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