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Youth Informed their Peers through the MediaWise Voter Project

This is part of our Rep Us Practitioner Series, in which partners in this field share their experiences running programs in which young people's voices inform public conversations.

By Heaven Taylor-Wynn, Multimedia Reporter at MediaWise

The MediaWise Voter Project launched in January 2020 to empower college-aged (18-24) first-time voters with the skills to cast their first presidential ballot based on fact rather than fiction. The project focused on this age group because, despite the amount of time students spend online, they are still susceptible to sharing misinformation. According to a survey by Project Information Literacy, almost 50% of college students don’t fact-check before sharing a post.

We were determined to reach 2 million first-time voters by Election Day as they would be making up a significant portion of eligible voters in 2020. We’re pleased to report the MVP program reached nearly 21 million people and our online educational content was viewed more than 38.6 million times between January 2020 and November 2020.

By the completion of the program in November 2020, we had conducted more than 80 virtual trainings, led several social media campaigns, produced celebrity and media partnerships, and reached millions of first-time voters.

About the MediaWise Voter Project Campus Correspondents

The MediaWise Voter Project Campus Correspondents were a major component of MVP programming. When MediaWise first began in 2018, a key component of that program was the Teen Fact-Checking Network, a cohort of students debunking online claims by teens for teens. The Campus Correspondents program replicated this effort in a similar way by having college students educate their peers about media literacy as it pertains to voting for the first time.

MVP Campus Correspondents were a group of 10 college students who were recruited to host in-person media literacy trainings for their peers at their college campuses. The selected students’ interests and areas of study were key in identifying whether they were suitable for this task. Some of the students’ majors included: political science, journalism, history, and international relations. Most students also articulated a prior interest in either media literacy, journalism, or voting advocacy in their application.

Diversity was also a key consideration in recruitment efforts. The program manager strongly considered the makeup of the group and actively recruited students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities nationwide.

Just before everything shut down in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the selected Campus Correspondents attended a media literacy training at The Poynter Institute with the MediaWise team. They learned how to spot misinformation online, find reliable information about the election, and train their peers on these important skills. However, the program quickly evolved as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The students pivoted to hosting virtual media literacy trainings and produced a wealth of election-focused media literacy content, including TikTok videos and social media campaigns.

Their work over the course of the program was documented on MediaWise’s social media accounts. Students in the program operated autonomously, applying their own creativity to the trainings and content they produced. They were advised by a member of the MediaWise staff for the duration of the program.

Student Reflections

Here’s what some students had to say about their experience in the program:

Sonia Rao: “The pandemic also heightened the extent of the misinformation we were combating, especially when it concerned the election. I found myself unable to scroll through Twitter or TikTok without seeing inaccurate claims about voting by mail or election results. Candidates made false assertions about each other in speeches or videos that campus correspondents could fact-check. I can’t think of a time where a rise in fact-checking and media literacy skills would be more relevant than right now.”

Elif Onay: “When I first heard about the opportunity to be involved in media literacy, admittedly it took me a minute to warm up to the idea. It was only when I made the connection to civic engagement and put media literacy in the context of the 2020 election that I decided to give it a go. We reached thousands through social media content and trainings held virtually (which at first was a letdown but, in retrospect, enabled us to have a further reach than the original plan). In context of the pandemic and the election, we came across heaps of misinformation and disinformation. The timing was spot-on to be talking about media literacy.”

Educational Resources

Below is a collection of educational resources produced as a result of the MediaWise Voter Project.

  • TikTok videos produced by Campus Correspondents: This is a collection of fact-checking and media literacy videos produced by the Campus Correspondents between August and November 2020. The videos teach first-time voters how to find reliable information about the election to help combat voter suppression misinformation that is running rampant across platforms.
  • Animated Video Series: In this 4-part series supported by Becker Charitable Trust, first-time voters learn key fact-checking skills to help them fact-check content on their social media feeds and talk about misinformation with loved ones.
  • Prep for the Polls Text Message Course: This is a free text message course, supported by Facebook, teaching first-time voters how to find reliable and accurate information on social media about the election. For 10 days course enrollees receive 5 minutes of information delivered via text message teaching how to cast an informed vote and fact-check social media content.
  • MVP Fact-Checking 101 Course: This course introduces participants to the tools and techniques used to fact-check information online and sort fact from fiction across social media platforms. An earlier version released in the fall of 2020 focused specifically on election misinformation.
  • MVP Fact-Checking Certificate Course:  This is a 4-part course diving deep into  all things fact-checking. It includes instructional videos from MediaWise Ambassadors to help enrollees feel confident and empowered to cast their 2020 votes. Participants earned a MediaWise Voter Project Fact-Checking Certificate at the conclusion of the course.
  • Partnered content with @kalesalad on Instagram: Through this content partnership the MediaWise Voter Project co-created 8 Instagram posts and videos related to the election to reach a wider audience of first-time voters with media literacy information. See the posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
  • Face the Facts: #Election2020 Youth Town Hall: MediaWise partnered with PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs to host a virtual youth town hall on October 6 to engage students and first-time voters on how to be prepared and better informed ahead of the November elections.
  • Democracy & Dragons comic strip: This comic was produced in partnership with comic book artist Liz Prince and Harvard’s Technology and Social Change Research Project. The comic’s “choose your adventure” style aims to bring awareness to voting obstacles. In the comic, a grandmother is sucked into a Dungeons and Dragons-like game after admitting she wasn’t going to vote, she then has to battle literal internet trolls and misinformed witches on the way to the polls.