Working with the media

Return of the House Hippo: Media Literacy Week

By 09/10/2019

Fake News is certainly news, but is it new?

It was already enough of a problem in 1999 that young Canadians were introduced to a new animal that was scurrying around their homes an stealing their socks when they were asleep – or was it? The aim of the House Hippo ad, created as a public service announcement (PSA) by the Concerned Children’s Advertisers, was to teach kids to think twice when they saw something on tv that just didn’t seem right. Today the technology to produce convincing false information is in the hands of children themselves, and is widely used not only by kids but by adults all the way to the top of the power tree. The need to be vigilant and sceptical has never been more urgent and important.

This week Canadian NGO MediaSmarts launched an updated House Hippo ad to kick off their Break the Fake campaign, part of Media Literacy Week in Canada. The jury may still be out on how effective the original PSA was among their target audience; the launch was nostalgically celebrated on social media, but with quite a lot of people admitting that as children they thought the house hippo was real. (Small hippos to hide about the house are still a popular thrift shop find among Canadians of a certain age.) The new ad makes the point more explicitly, and the Break the Fake website includes all kinds of resource materials on Digital and Media Literacy for teachers and parents, from workshops to tip sheets.

MediaSmarts notes that ‘Almost 90 percent of Canadians have admitted to falling for false news or information online’, so this is a case where we can all learn alongside our young people by sharing and using the resources. I at first was surprised when I had a notification from Facebook that a post that I’d shared about Brexit had been fact-checked and declared ‘fake news’, but on reflection more surprised that it had only been the one. The tide of biased material flowing our way is only getting stronger.

UNESCO celebrates Global Media and Information Literacy Week 2019 on 24-31 October, 2019 (to coincide with International Open Access Week), with many countries around the world hosting linked events. UNESCO also has a library of resources and materials, including their Five Laws of Media Information and Literacy. These laws acknowledge the malign influence of fake news, but also stress the importance of continuing to fight for both the right of all citizens to access information and express themselves, as well as the need for everyone take seriously their obligations for truthfulness and transparency.recommendations for great resources about development communications and research uptake.