How to Recognise Manipulation? Digital Media Competence of Servicemen and Conscripts
In 2020–2021, the Department of Semiotics and the Institute of Social Studies of the University of Tartu conducted a research project with the aim of developing a prototype for the interactive web-based learning platform “Learn to Recognise Manipulation” (https://mojutustehnikad.ee) in order to improve the identification of information influence activities.
The learning platform is first of all meant to be used by conscripts and servicemen who will be the primary target of hostile information influence activities during a hybrid war.
In order to get an overview of the awareness of hostile information influence activities and potential challenges among the servicemen and conscripts, we used a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods. In the quantitative analysis part, we conducted an electronic questionnaire to ascertain awareness of influencing. The qualitative analysis consisted of an analysis of (social) media texts where we identified the main messages of disinforming texts and the ways of constructing them.
Designing of the learning environment was based on three central principles of shaping the learning process:
Developing of media competence. In putting together the learning tasks of the platform, we proceeded from the following aims of learning: developing the skill to find and access information in different media, the skill to analyse the messages presented in different media, the skill to judge the reliability of the messages sent out and the skill create new messages in different media.
Playfulness of the learning process. In our learning environment prototype, we prepared several tasks that give the students the opportunity to test by themselves how to use information influence activities in creating messages in order to increase their ability to recognise hostile information influence activities in the future through this experience.
Giving feedback in online environment. In both the multiple-choice tests and the case analyses that require the students to give longer written answers, we have offered the students longer explanations and reasonings as feedback with which they can compare their answers. Feedback in the form of a dialogue should encourage the students to continue thinking about these issues independently.
On the basis of the results of the questionnaire and qualitative text analysis, we selected four topics to focus on in the learning tasks of the web platform.
Disinformation. In this part, the students learn to recognise more wide-spread types of disinformation, to analyse different types of media content critically and to behave appropriately when they come into touch with possible disinformation.
Polarisation. Here the students learn about the main verbal and pictorial means that are used to create tensions between different social groups and to strengthen division.
Belittling and discrediting opponents. In this part, students are taught to identify rhetoric strategies that foreign influencers may use in the press or social media to discredit the Constitution of Estonia, the Estonian Defence Forces or NATO.
False identities, where we focused mainly on the so-called bots in creating the tasks. Here the students learn to understand how bots are used in information influence activities, and identify the bots and false identities used in social media.