News and Media Research Centre
University of Canberra
Building 9, Level C, Room 10
Building Resilience with Information Literacy and Information Health
How can people become more resilient to misinformation? What exactly does resilience mean when it comes to information literacy? Where can information resilience be collectively experienced, and developed? Researchers from the University of Canberra and the Australian National University are providing answers.
A report by the University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre released on 30 August 2023 argues that to counter foreign interference, debunk conspiracies, and safeguard Australian democracy, the information skills of Australians must be increased.
The report outlines three key information resilience principles: non-partisanship, speed, and transparency. It then presents two research programs which apply these principles in practice.
- An ACT Education Directorate-University of Canberra information literacy program conducted in 2022. This program used lateral reading and Wikipedia to increase the fact-checking skills of students in four Canberra primary and secondary schools.
- An ongoing University of Canberra / Australian National University project using computational network-analysis tools developed by the Virtual Observatory to Study Online Networks (VOSON). This program maps the health of online information environments, using the example of Twitter discussions about the Voice to Parliament.
Professor Mathieu O’Neil, one of the report’s authors, said: ‘When information is over-abundant, there is a risk that epistemic pollution becomes impossible to detect. Our research shows how people can acquire the necessary tools to deal with misinformation, or understand the quality of their information environment. These information resilience principles and practical skills can inform information literacy campaigns and initiatives to make the Australian public more resilient.’
For more information about the report please contact:
Professor Mathieu O’Neil - News and Media Research Centre, University of Canberra
About the report
This report is based on the News and Media Research Centre’s submission to the Australian Senate’s Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media. The authors are Professor Mathieu O’Neil (News and Media Research Centre, Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra), Professor Robert Ackland (School of Sociology/VOSON, The Australian National University), and Dr. Rachel Cunneen (Faculty of Education, University of Canberra).
The information literacy research was funded by the ACT Education Directorate - UC Affiliated Schools Research program and the US Embassy – Canberra. The information health research is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation’s Artificial Intelligence and the Society of the Future initiative.
Background: why resilience?
In recent years the idea that people should be ‘resilient’ when it comes to misinformation has become increasingly popular. However, not everyone agrees that resilience is a useful concept, particularly in educational contexts. The reason is that tenacity is often considered to be a character trait, so encouraging young people to be resilient can work to deflect responsibility for problems they may experience.
Instead of recognising that adversities faced by young people in the family or at school often derive from unequal access to social and economic benefits, invoking resilience positions children themselves as problematic and needing to adapt.
Is this critique of resilience justified in the case of exposure to misinformation? Resilience means the capacity to recover from adversity or shocks. Exposure to misinformation causes cognitive adversity. An expectation about the world is challenged: are we are experiencing cognitive dissonance? Our knowledge is suddenly being tested: could an outlandish claim be true?
The shock is the cognitive uncertainty, the resilience is the ability to address it with information literacy techniques such as ‘lateral reading’: do not engage deeply with a dubious claim; look away, open another browser tab; search and verify; if the claim is unfounded, move on.
We access news and information media individually. A practical response whose implementation is individual is therefore justified: the notion of resilience can be mobilised to inform the fight against disinformation.
At the same time a shared sense of truth remains an important goal for society. Where can information resilience be collectively experienced, and developed? This report argues that Wikipedia, an auditable project – every change to a wiki is archived – where encyclopaedic knowledge is communally created and verified is a useful place to start.