Organisers did a really good job of providing us information about the different topics, and reminders about each workshop in advance, to which some of the best experts in Cyprus were invited. All ten workshops are on YouTube, so everyone can learn from them even today. Workshops took place on Zoom which sometimes led to internet-related problems, but in that case, we asked the presenter to repeat any missed information. Also, some of the workshops happened during my final exams’ week, so I was feeling a bit tired. Despite these minor problems, I found it easy to participate in the workshops because of their online format. The project presented ways to check the reliability of information, especially by well-known media companies, and how to avoid falling into the traps of fake news. I learnt to be more conscious and careful, and filter information. It is not easy, but this project has helped me to understand many things about creating and sharing news, journalists, creators of fake news, how to distinguish facts from fiction (or unreliable users/media). My personal favourite workshop was the one about the verification tools with which I can crosscheck any information.
Don’t believe everything you are told! From youth to youth, this was the main message of the very practical and engaging media literacy workshops organised by the Cyprus Youth Council. As a result, young participants got skilled up in critical thinking and spotting misinformation, and also became familiar with the mysterious art of policy making
Not just voting, but also alternative methods count as youth participation. Going to a protest, forming youth initiatives, creating opportunities for other young people, taking part in empowering non-formal education projects and learning through travelling. In a broader sense, all of these can be acts of participation.
How did you get involved in the project?
I was one of the three young people initiating and implementing the project. We also participated in all the activities as young people ourselves, so I know the activities from both an organiser’s and participant’s point of view — from the beginning to the end.
Why did you find media literacy an important issue to address?
We found a call for project proposals about fake news at the Cyprus University of Technology. It was a revelation, how little knowledge we had in this field! Even though at that point we hadn’t foreseen that a pandemic would begin and hasten the spread of misinformation among young people, we felt that it was a great opportunity to shift the priorities of the Youth Council. A big honour was that we were one of the two winning projects that received funding from the university.
Did you have any experts in media literacy on board?
As the workshops we organised discussions around different themes regarding the media—from environment to gender—we identified our experts before submitting the project application. For example, one of my colleagues is a sociologist specialising in journalism, and we also involved a professor from the University of Nicosia who holds a PhD in Journalism issued by Sofia State University St Kliment Ohridski and focuses on the phenomenon of misinformation and fake news.
You highlighted that one of your main objectives was building resilience. Did you succeed?
Absolutely, both the young participants and we as the organisers have learnt many different aspects of fake news, and different strategies to spot them. Two of the ten thematic workshops introduced the most important terms (definitions and tendencies regarding fake news), while the others provided concrete tools and guidelines for fact checking. The ten-step tool we created is particularly popular and simple. It suggests basic tricks like checking the author and the dates, and spotting grammatical mistakes. All this can be very revealing if we are dealing with a fake article!
How was the project structured? Which were the most important elements?
The timeline was short, but intense: in one year we had ten workshops, two youth trainings, the creation of the toolkit and some videos, with all outputs available in Greek, and translated in English. Though some NGOs already use the toolkit, we are still disseminating —sharing the outcomes with youth organisations, libraries and young people. Another wonderful achievement was that the group of young people who went through the whole process wrote a policy paper, which we submitted to the General Assembly of the Cyprus Youth Council. The General Assembly voted in favor of it, and it now serves as an official policy paper of the Cyprus Youth Council. It consists of young people’s recommendations, focused on how to fight misinformation, particularly in Cyprus — building on the experiences gathered during the workshops. They also designed a plan for promoting these reforms, and for reaching out to other youth and multipliers.This paper was presented at the final conference, in the last phase of the project.
Who were the young people you attracted and involved?
Generally, the Cyprus Youth Council’s training is open to all young people of Cyprus. We searched for young people aged between 16-35 years, but in the end, we had no underaged participants. Mainly university students and young people working in NGOs joined. We did not care about their professional background or field of studies. The important thing was that they showed interest in the topic, could follow the whole flow, and contribute to the policy paper. This way they could multiply the results in their youth organisations or at their universities. The only limitation was language: the workshops were in Greek. In the online workshops we had more than 200 participants. In the workshop about policy recommendations we had more than 60 young people taking part.
At the end, we had a big final event run together with the other university-funded project, with around 100 young participants. As they worked with schools, we had the chance to share our results and conduct workshops with parents, teachers, and minors as well. It was nice to see that our methods worked with these different target groups too. Teachers and parents both showed interest in the toolkit and said they would use it with young people.
What was the key to making young people participate, share, learn, and exchange knowledge?
COVID-19 both helped us and “destroyed” us at the same time. Because of the lockdowns, workshops were managed and recorded through Zoom, then uploaded to our Youtube channel, where they are still now available. Young people were able to follow from the comfort of their homes. For many of them the lockdowns were a motivation to participate, as they looked for things to do online. Imagine — some of the workshops went on for hours and hours, they had so many questions! Also, we could reach an unlimited number of people online, unlike when gathering in a room. Plus, those who couldn’t join us live because they had classes or work, could (and still can) watch the videos later. We tried to have some of our training face-to-face, but with the constant change of regulations, it was a complete mess. Organising the final event was tricky too, we needed to pay attention to the latest COVID-19 measures, but in the end, we had around 100 people. For the size of Cyprus, that’s quite a lot.
Is there anything you would do differently today?
In part, I consider it a mistake to have engaged youth in a field they were not really interested in: policy making. However, in the training, as soon as they realised what policy making was about, how to write and consult with policy documents, they had more fun in the advocacy.
Did they learn how to run their own activities too?
Yes, they acquired several non-formal education skills. For example, in one of the activities they needed to access news from all over the world, and to check which were true and which weren’t. Youngsters were impressed to see that even valid newspapers like the BBC could reproduce convincing (!) fake news. Through exercises like this, they have experienced all the different steps of fact checking, and they built resilience and expertise in leading similar activities to their peers.
You mentioned that engaging young people in policy making was challenging. What techniques did you use to bring it closer to the participants?
Before any action we take as a Youth Council, first we consult young people. We count on their opinion and outputs! Our trainers, who are experts in non-formal education and policy dialogue with young people, know how to involve youth in the process smoothly. In reality, they want to dig deep once they perceive the importance of advocacy. For example, recently we have submitted a policy recommendation to the Parliament of Cyprus against unpaid internships. For such a policy, we use the results from all our projects collectively to amplify the power and the voice of young people.
Do you have a suggestion for others who want to realise a similar project?
Include experts, especially in topics where you are not an expert. In the youth field, we work with so many different areas that it is impossible to master them all. But we shouldn’t be afraid of asking others who are! When it comes to young people, we need to provide them role models and valid information. After we created the toolkit, based on the workshops and the experts’ presentations, we asked our experts to check everything again before publishing. We wanted to be as accurate and specific as possible in order to create a useful, relevant resource for both young people and other experts. Being precise and reliable is key! We can’t behave like politicians — promising things and then not solving any issues, because then we lose young people’s trust. I repeat, you don’t need to know everything and be perfect, but dare to ask for help.
Do you have some follow-ups in mind for the media literacy project?
For sure, we plan to submit new projects based on the results, as media literacy and digital transformation are also currently one of the focuses of Erasmus+. If the new project we wrote about digital participation gets approved, we will work with more than ten other national youth councils from Southern Europe — building on the results of the Co-Creating Media Literate Youth project.
How did you keep up the motivation within the team?
I am not a workaholic, but youth work comes with personal sacrifices. It is not only about following the reality of Cyprus, but international situations as well. Only this way can we push for things in Cyprus that are the norm or being implemented in other European Union countries. The minute you realise that our work is multidimensional, you must compromise and dedicate some part of your free time to your work. And this happens not only in national youth councils but in international youth NGOs as well. The quality of our work always comes down to the motivation of the team. In the Cyprus Youth Council I keep saying to my colleagues and volunteers that they are not super humans and they cannot do everything. We need motivation and realism, because our work requires lots of time, effort, coordination—and in countries like Cyprus—connections as well. So, if they manage to achieve at least one thing during a two-year long mandate in the case of the Board of the Cyprus Youth Council for example — to pass a law or to increase the budget related to youth in Cyprus which currently is very low, it is a success.
Exploring many easily usable tools and methods to help you spot misinformation online and offline! Here are just a few examples of young participants’ favourite applications for validating information and resources: TinEye (reverse image search tool), YoutubeDataViewer and FotoForensics (tools and training for digital picture analysis).
About the project
EU Youth Programme Priority:
Participation in Democratic Life
Media, Information & Critical Thinking
Youth Participation / Promoting Participation for All
More than 200 youngsters were involved in the 10 online workshops, more than 60 took part in the policy making activity, and around 100 in the final conference. Plus, the Greek training videos uploaded to Youtube continue to attract new viewers! The fact checking toolkit shared with several youth organisations takes the impact of the project even further.
Cyprus Youth Council (Cyprus)