Young Ukrainians find new ways to combat misinformation

UNICEF and partners are working with young people across Ukraine to find new ways of combatting fake news and misinformation.

Anton Hryhorov, Kate Bond
22 December 2020

Spreading fake news and misinformation during infectious disease outbreaks can cost lives.

But young people in Ukraine might have helped to save them by taking part in a competition aimed at using media and technology to combat the spread of misinformation.

The two-day competition, known as ‘INFOTON’, saw more than 300 youngsters aged 13-25 share their ideas. The event was held in cooperation with UNICEF and INSCIENCE with support from the people of United States.

"At first we thought about making longer programmes,” says INSCIENCE co-founder Olena Skyrta. “But then chose the format of the hackathon, that proved its effectiveness.”

“The hackathon showed that young people are quite capable of generating great ideas. Now we will see how well the teams will be able to implement them."


The participants formed 80 teams. Using the online communication platform Slack, the youngsters not only learned new skills and shared ideas, but also found new friends.

“Many of the participants came to us without having a team,” adds Olena. “Thus, a boy or a girl from one part of the country found like-minded people from other regions. It was fascinating to observe.”

"We wanted to support young people because they often go unnoticed,” adds Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine. “Not only this is a vast age group, but also they are experiencing the best moments of their lives. That is why we wanted to give young people a chance to ‘come out of the crowd' and share their ideas."

An essential part of INFOTON was consulting with mentors from various fields – media founders, communication managers, business representatives and scientists. One was Artem Albul, author of the YouTube channel The Goddamn Rationalist, who discusses science and debunks myths.

“The idea of the online competition seemed great to me, especially since it was not the first time I was cooperating with INSCIENCE,” says Artem. “During the hackathon, six teams approached me for consultations. I was advising them on how to create media content and promote it. In my opinion, sincerity is the main component for successful communication. When creating a product, it is important not to pretend to be someone you are not.”


Young people as agents of change

Applying critical thinking is the first step in the fight against misinformation, which is why the event encouraged participants to find unusual ways to interact with their audience.

“Often we reduce the fight against misinformation to fact-checking,” explains Olena. “This is indeed necessary. However, as research shows, unverified information reaches us six times faster than verified. That is why we need to work to ensure that people receive truthful information immediately. And this can be achieved through the most interesting formats of interaction with the audience.”

The event organizers picked the best 30 teams and later chose a ten finalists.

Winners included Halabuda media hub, which discusses contemporary art and promotes critical thinking, and the online game Check It, which uses role-play to distinguish fakes from the truth.

The DilemMe team also won for its board game on media literacy.

"Our team has known each other for a long time, because we work together in the non-governmental organisation," says team leader Marianna Ionenko. “At YNGO PLUS, we provide informal education for teenagers, so we look for initiatives that can help us. But still, when we saw the announcement of INFOTON, we were very excited about the idea."

Working with mentors helped the team a lot.


"We came to the hackathon with a very abstract idea. It was about both the content of the game and the ways to implement it. One of the mentors encouraged us to look for our audience on TikTok. At first we did not think it was realistic. However, since our game is aimed primarily at those who do not yet know anything about critical thinking, we realized that young people should be sought there.”

According to Marianna, the whole team loves to play board games.

"Our offline project is quite unusual nowadays," she adds. "However, we should not forget that during quarantine we are doomed to sit at home and get tired of the usual Netflix. Under such conditions, playing board games is more interesting. In addition, these games can unite generations and it is always a pleasure to return to them."

The team is now waiting for a project mentor to work with them in the coming months. It is also developing a new game design to make it more convenient and inclusive. In particular, it plans to use special UNICEF fonts for the visually impaired people.


Building a better world

The event was productive for everyone involved, including the mentors, the jury and the teams.

Even the teams that did not receive funding continue to develop their projects. INFOTON gave them the opportunity to discuss their ideas with professionals, who are ready to help even after the event.

If young people are prepared to offer such interesting solutions to difficult problems, then the future is looking very bright indeed.