Digital Disruption: Online propaganda workshops for schools

23/04/2017

Last month 10 primary schools across the Bradford district hosted Digital Disruption workshop leader Luke Newbold to deliver engaging sessions to year 5 and 6 pupils on Online Propaganda. The morning and afternoon slots in schools consisted of a short assembly and 45 minute session to help tackle the issue of ‘trust’ online as part of the ‘Prevent’ initiative.

 

In the assemblies students were shown three different websites and asked to consider which were most ‘trustworthy’ and why. The websites consisted of a satirical ‘Save the tree octopus’ fundraising page, a BBC April fools day hoax about Green Spaghetti growing on trees, and a YouTube conspiracy page about ‘Chemtrails’. Pupils voted on which one they trusted most and some students pointed out (correctly) that all three were all Fake News!

 

The smaller workshops had 30 pupils and the icebreaker included a circle game of one truth and one lie. The children had to guess which was a lie by noting facial expressions and “hesitation,” “blushing” or “voice changes.” The point was to illustrate that we cannot always tell the truth on the Internet, as there are ‘no gatekeepers’. Instead children were encouraged to check facts in books, with a parent or elder, and to search three other (more reliable) websites to confirm whether the fact is true.

 

Pupils were then introduced to the words Bias and Propaganda and shown how marketing for companies such as ‘Nike’ or ‘McDonald’s’ or even the news uses these techniques to show their preferences for a certain product or opinion.

 

The workshop leader Luke had developed three fun video animations that demonstrated the words ‘Assertion, Omission and Scapegoat’. Students were given role-play scenarios in smaller groups and used the new words they had learnt. Examples of the role-plays included pupils convincing their friends to vote for them for Prime Minister by scapegoating a group of people or assert that ‘McDonald’s is better than KFC’ but omit that it might be unhealthy. The point being that these techniques were frequently used online and that caution must be exercised.

 

After the sessions pupils were asked to write down one thing they enjoyed and one of the words that they had learnt such as:

“I enjoyed the role plays. I learnt to ask questions like Who? What? Why?”

 

The teachers attending and supervising the workshops found the animation clips engaging and suitable for the children.

“The children absolutely loved the animated clips and the role plays. They sessions built on a lot of the work we have done as part of the Prevent aspect of the Curriculum.”

 

At the end pupils were left with the key points that there are no ‘gatekeepers’ on the Internet and that they need to ask “who? What? Why?” when on the WWW. They also learnt five new words: Bias, Propaganda, Assertion, Omission, Scapegoat. Overall the workshops provide informative and important advice in a fun and diverting way.