Eight concrete proposals were handed to the European Commission's Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová by secondary school students from all over Europe. The students were taking part in the virtual youth event Your Europe, Your Say! (YEYS2022) under the title: The truth about lies. Youth challenging disinformation. The event was hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on 31 March and 1 April 2022.
After two days of lively virtual discussions and debates, the 99 students aged 16-18 participating in #YEYS2022 came up with a set of specific recommendations, which they presented to and discussed with Vice-President Věra Jourová during a final plenary session.
Education is key to increasing the resilience of our society against disinformation and fake news, said Ms Jourová closing the event Your Europe, Your Say 2022 and commenting on the students' recommendations. Vice-President Jourová thoroughly addressed all of them and discussed them one by one with the students. Disinformation is a threat to our society, especially in times of war. We must tackle it while preserving freedom of speech, she concluded.
The students' recommendations were as follows:
- EU Member States should initiate national- and European-level public campaigns providing information about the dangers of disinformation and how easily fake news can polarise people and spread hate speech.
- Educational programmes should be developed. It is crucial that national authorities create and support educational courses on disinformation and invest in activities on how to spot and tackle fake news.
- Information platforms should be set up at national and/or European level, where information resources could be tracked and traced and fake-news spreaders held accountable for what they publish online.
- Accessibility to reliable sources should be enhanced and a fact-checking mechanism inaugurated. Technology should be the vehicle to guarantee transparency and that could be achieved in a creative way by using modern online tools and apps like videos or games.
- It is also crucial to Say No to Censorship! Education is always the key and censorship should be avoided. National authorities and governments shouldn't ban or restrict freedom of speech, and truth and credibility are the pillars that should be emphasised and preserved as the essential competences of democratic participatory societies.
- Systematic oversight of the content and origins of sources should be reinforced. Vulnerable target groups should be protected by limiting accessibility for fake-news spreaders. That could be done via increased controls on the identity of publishers, and credentials and certifications should be required as a matter of course.
- New regulations and stricter legislation establishing possible penalties for disrespectful or fake content should be framed. The budget should be increased accordingly.
- Campaigns should be started up in cooperation with social media platforms and social media app companies to pop up warnings and information messages and introduce algorithms to detect fake news.
The goal of #YEYS2022 was to raise awareness of the dangers of disinformation and to encourage the students to become more active in the fight against fake news. During the event, the youngsters were trained to detect disinformation easily and act against it. They worked in small groups and different workshops and developed a disinformation campaign, which later had to be tackled through a strong information counter-campaign.
The students were welcomed by Christa Schweng, President of the EESC, who said: Fake news is constantly being spread in an attempt to undermine European values and democracy. #YEYS2022 is an opportunity for youth to develop critical thinking and learn about tools to fight disinformation. Young people are key to shaping a better future for Europe.
Cillian Lohan, Vice-President of the EESC in charge of communication, closed the event with these remarks: As representatives of civil society, we'd like to meet more with our youth, hear their open-minded approaches and blend our concerns with their imagination and vision for the future.
Your Europe, Your Say 2022! – YEYS2022 – has been flagged as one of the main events taking place during the European Year of Youth 2022.
The Committee's flagship event for young people welcomed 33 schools, one from each of the 27 EU Member States, five candidate countries (Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey) and one Brussels-based European school. Through this initiative, the EESC aims to ensure that the views, experiences and ideas of the younger generation are taken on board in EU policy-making.
Further details about YEYS 2022 are available on the event's official page.