Austrian Education Minister Sonja Hammerschmid has proposed the introduction of “digital literacy classes” for children in compulsory education to teach them how to differentiate between real news and so-called “fake news.”
Ms. Hammerschmid, a member of the Socialist Party of Austria (SPÖ) claims that the subject is needed to ensure that children are able to receive and process what is considered correct information rather than what the government and others consider to be “fake news.” The minister hopes that “digital literacy” will combat the “fake news” phenomenon and said the subject could be incorporated into existing courses or be made a course on its own, reports Kronen Zeitung.
Minister Hammerschmid also said that children would learn to deal with cyberbullying and online hate speech via the proposed new courses. “Digitalisation has arrived in our society, and we have to meet this challenge,” she said.
Education experts in Austria back up the idea of teaching children how to tell fact from fiction on the internet from a young age. They say that the best response to “fake news” is not to punish, but rather to educate.
Social media consultant Judith Denkmayr says she is unsure of what real steps should be taken to combat misinformation online. “There needs to be more education in the area, more sensitivity, but whether we will need new laws I am frankly undecided,” she said.
Since the election of U.S. President-Elect Donald J. Trump in November, many in the media have rallied against what they refer to as “fake news” with some insisting that misinformation swayed the election itself.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her allies have hit out against the phenomenon saying purveyors of false news could be subjected to fines as high as €500,000. The German Interior Ministry fears that “fake news” may even influence the upcoming German federal election later this year and has ordered the creation of an Orwellian “defence centre” within the ministry to correct misinformation and fake news.
Both Germany and Austria have come down hard on so-called ‘hate speech’ since the start of the migrant crisis in 2015. German police have raided homes and arrested their citizens for making anti-migrant statements online.
In Austria, even the press is not immune from the speech crack down as the former regional editor of Kronen Zeitung, Christoph Biro, is set to be tried for hate speech over an article he wrote in October of 2015.