When you can't trust your eyes – Civic Resilience Course teaches to recognize false information

“I’ll just watch one more and go to bed” is probably a common thought of somebody who is about to fall in into a YouTube rabbit hole of recommended videos. However, watching whatever pops up on the screen with no selection might bring consequences more serious than red eyes in the morning. In search of a solution how to increase media literacy, DebunkEU.org strives to equip university students with all skills necessary to navigate contemporary information landscape in just 90 minutes with a fully digital Civic Resilience Course.


The project is seeded by a grant from DT Institute, a global non-profit organization.


The idea to develop such course arose after we started analysing problems Gen Z faces. According to research carried out by the university of Stanford, even though young people can be called “digital natives”, more often than not they struggle to differentiate a credible source from a fake. The group of experts who worked on developing the curriculum for “Civic Resilience Course” has found many research cases which prove that confidence of young people does not translate into actually separating fact from fiction online. A Swedish study found that 88% of young people who were confident in their information literacy skills couldn’t separate ads from news in Sweden’s most read newspaper, and only 44% identified text from Swedish public radio as more credible than text from a right wing website.



The impact of false and misleading information is being felt now more than ever. TikToks containing misinformation about COVID-19 are being watched by young children, seemingly harmless memes are being used to manipulate voters and might even lead to physical action – such as the Capitol Riot in the United States.


Therefore, to showcase how false information might appear trustworthy at the first glance, real examples from Twitter, Instagram and YouTube will be dissected in the course.


Within the course curriculum we will try to explain, why you might see what you see on your social media news feed, how to avoid falling into a YouTube rabbit hole, and how to discern a real social media profile from a complete troll. Moreover, we showcase that an aesthetically pleasing design and a .org domain do not necessarily mean that this website is reliable.


Given what they learned from research into Gen Z’s social media habits, DebunkEU.org focused on teaching the participants of CRC course four basic skills: recognizing frequently occurring types of disinformation, evaluating the trustworthiness of sources, checking the origin of images and videos to see if they were manipulated in some way, and gaining a basic understanding of how social media/search engine algorithms work.



The CRC course will be thought in English and first offered in three countries – Lithuania, Estonia, and Montenegro. In Lithuania, DebunkEU.org already partnered with Vilnius University and in Montenegro – University of Donja Gorica (UDG).


The rector of Vilnius University, prof. Rimvydas Petrauskas says that in the era of vast and fast information it is difficult to adapt not only for individuals, but also for long standing institutions such as universities. "In such circumstances, it is very important to maintain the respect for truth, to be able to discern facts from lies and to understand the mechanisms behind disinformation. Only through joint discussions, education, and purposeful action we can maintain the trust in democracy and common European values," says Mr Petrauskas.


The German Ambassador to Montenegro Dr. Robert Weber has emphasized that when it comes to media literacy, the time to act is now: “Basic skills on how to consume information and recognize false content should become an integral part of education process – such as teaching students how to read and write”.


In order to assess the impact made by this project, the students will be asked to fill in short surveys before they start the course and right after they finish it. Then, based on the feedback we receive, we are hoping to improve the curriculum and expand in more countries next year.


To make learning process easy and fun, the CRC course will be hosted on a Lithuanian start-up educational platform BitDegree. It provides all the students who complete the course with a Blockchain certificate, which can be shared anywhere online.


The CRC course curriculum was developed by Colgate University associate professor, Dr. Valerie Ona Morkevičius, Vilnius University associate professors Dr. Viktor Denisenko and Fabio Belafatti together with DebunkEU.org team of disinformation analysts.


Registration to the course: https://www.debunkeu.org/civic-resilience-course


The “Civic Resilience Course” project is funded by DT Institute’s Free and Independent Media Fund, which supports research and program activities that improve the quality and availability of news and information to strengthen societies’ resilience against malign influence.


DT Institute is a global non-profit organization. It acts both as a funder and implementer of peace and development projects. It focuses on co-creation and co-investment, as well as measurable impact and sustainability. DT Institute works with governments and our on the-ground partners to address pressing issues—from conflict to economic crisis— and to establish a foundation for lasting stability, peace, and prosperity. It is in the organization’s DNA to be bold: DT Institute relentlessly innovates, creates, and measures its ability to drive innovation, strengthen communities, develop the next generation of leaders, and positively impact the lives of those we serve. For more information about DT Institute, please visit www.dt-institute.org.