GENERAL DISTRUST IN THE MEDIA
Most of the young people in 8 countries analysed seem not to trust the media. They also claim to be always double-checking information before they believe a particular story to be true. When searching for information, the young prefer and use predominantly online sources – websites, news applications or social media platforms over traditional media as TV, radio or newspapers. News apps were a popular source of information for the young in a number of countries.
DOMESTIC MEDIA MOSTLY PERCEIVED AS BIASED AND UNDER POLITICAL INFLUENCE
While a lack of trust in the media was a common conviction for young people in all countries, it is possible to observe some diﬀerences in the perceptions between domestic and foreign media. In general, the young were aware of political attempts to control domestic media and, thus, tended to have more trust towards media with foreign ownership, which, in their eyes, decreases the possibility of being biased towards certain political parties or governments. The Czech Republic was the only country in which the public broadcaster was perceived as very credible and independent. The foreign media was seen skeptically only by young Poles who doubted their ability to report accurately about domestic situation in their country.
AWARE OF DISINFORMATION BUT NOT FULLY UNDERSTANDING ITS SCOPE
While the young in all countries were aware of information manipulation activities and the intentional spread of disinformation, not all of them clearly and fully understand the scope of these activities’ impacts. Awareness was mainly demonstrated by young peoples’ claims to double- or even triple-check information before deciding whether something is true of false. Similarly, mindfulness of clickbait headlines and avoiding stories with sketchy titles was also mentioned. The spread of intentionally misleading or biased information was not automatically connected, in the minds of young people, to foreign subversive eﬀorts by external actors. On the contrary, disinformation and “fake news” were predominantly perceived solely in terms of actors seeking economic proﬁt. In many countries though, the young are acquainted with information manipulation and propaganda from political representatives. This was noted especially in Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, ethnicity plays an important role in the perception of whether particular media is perceived as objective and trust-worthy. It was also the only country where hate speech was raised as a common issue lacking eﬀective counter-measures.
“You can tell one story in very diﬀerent ways. It matters where you put the emphasis as it can alter your narrative.”
DISTRUST IN THE SYSTEM LEADS TO PASSIVITY
Another ﬁnding is that young respondents lack interest in actively participating to make a diﬀerence in building up their societies. In some countries, we observed inherent distrust of media or politics. This distrust often leads the young to search for “alternative” news sources or explanations of political situations oﬀered by disinformation outlets. The young respondents generally claimed not to actively report disinformation on social media. What is more, Macedonian participants argued that ignoring disinformation reduced their reach. While seeing how easily false news can be spread on social media, the participants declared not to perceive social media platforms as a trustful source of information. Therefore, some admitted to being purposely cutting the time they spend on these platforms to limit their exposure to such content.
DIFFERENT LEVELS OF MEDIA LITERACY: SELF-PERCEPTION VS. REALITY
A signiﬁcant diﬀerence between the young participants from 8 countries was observed in their media literacy and understanding of how information can be manipulated. A negative outlier among the countries were the young people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who thought that videos or images give more credibility to information than a text vulnerable to manipulative interpretations. While the spread of disinformation via textual content is indeed easily achievable, image modiﬁcations and video adjustments to spread false or manipulated information is similarly common, with many examples to be found online. This notion was pointed out by young Serbs, who declared that modiﬁed videos are the hardest to verify and clearly identify whether they portray accurate information.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY AS STRONG OPINION-SHAPERS
Friends and family members seem to play an important role in information veriﬁcation. The respondents often claimed that if they did not know whether to trust a particular piece of information, they relied on the opinions of their friends/peers or family members. In all countries, information shared or commented on by friends was considered a respectable source for young people. Often, they admitted they started paying attention or attributing relevance to a piece of news only after seeing that it had been shared by their friends. In addition, the young people in Serbia declared to follow comments and online discussions to understand public perception.
DISINFORMATION NARRATIVES OVERLAP
Narratives supporting anti-immigration, anti-European Union, anti-NATO; anti-multiculturalism and Western “decadence” are commonly spread in all 8 countries analysed. Disinformation narratives attempt to inﬂuence the geo-political orientation of these countries and to stir distrust of NATO and the EU. Furthermore, disinformation narratives utilise social-economic, historical or ethnic divisions and vulnerabilities of societies. Therefore, in Poland, anti-Ukrainian narratives are possible to observe: in Serbia, nationalistic and narratives supporting Orthodox values and culture are dominant and inﬂuential; in Bosnia and Herzegovina, disinformation narratives exploit on ethnic divisions and inherent distrust among the ethnic groups.
THE INTERNET IS THE YOUNGSTERS’ BEST FRIEND
Young people in all countries admitted spending several hours per day online. Google as a search engine and Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and YouTube as social media platforms serve both as an important source of information and a space for social interaction to dominate the market of young minds in the countries analysed. Activity and presence on these platforms are linked to all aspects of their lives – their work, school, but also serve as a hobby. Accounts on several social media platforms were thus a natural means for the interviewed young to stay in touch with their peers, while the preferences of social media platforms changed with age and type of content young people shared online. While social media were still mentioned as an important source of information, the young generally claimed not to trust these platforms. Young people were most interested in content that is funny and connected to their interests. The most common topics of interest mentioned are lifestyle, entertainment, sports, music and art. Many, however, also claimed to be using online sources to educate themselves and get practical tips.
DECLINE OF FACEBOOK: RISE OF MESSENGER
Facebook has been among the most widespread social media platforms among the young since its enormous boost in popularity in early 2010’s. However, the discussions showed a decline of usage among younger respondents due to several factors. Facebook was mostly named as one of the primary sources of information about events, organisations and current issues. For many, it is considered a necessity – the young use it as a tool for the exchange of information connected with their school or work, and use it as a platform for study groups. However, the young claimed either not to – or very rarely – share content on Facebook, although claiming they receive information from their friends who post and share content. This is a paradox, since the young claimed to often rely on information shared by their active friends, yet few admit to ever posting or sharing content. This further conﬁrms the importance of friends and family in opinion-shaping and information consumption.
“We have usually one friend who regularly shares [information] on Facebook.”
Facebook Messenger was identiﬁed as the number one platform for the communication and exchange of information. Moreover, many participants stated they preferred to share news directly to friends through Messenger rather than posting things online on their walls. In fact, in some countries, Messenger was named as the most used social media platform. Increased commercialisation of Facebook and the lack of transparency of its algorithms have signiﬁcantly decreased the trust of the respondents towards this platform. Increasingly negative perceptions by young people towards Facebook were observed: being aware of “information bubbles” and the negative echo-chambers it can create, they are consciously – and increasingly – limiting their time spent on Facebook. Many participants in the discussions considered Facebook to be obsolete and criticised it for being “over-advertised” in terms of having too many ads appearing on the wall as posts, as well as in the videos. As a consequence, many young people in all countries characterized themselves as “passive” actors on this social media platform, or are considering to leave it completely.
“I do not use Facebook because it has too many advertisements and things which do not interest me are constantly appearing.”
REFRESHING AND PRIVATE: INSTAGRAM
Instagram was generally the ﬁrst choice among younger high school students. Many prefer Instagram to Facebook due to its simplicity and clarity compared to the latter’s complicated algorithms and commercialisation. Instagram was often considered refreshing and innovative, and praised for its less politicised nature reﬂected in the topics that young people actively follow and seek out. In all countries, Instagram’s top topics were mostly connected to lifestyle and everyday life of public personalities and friends. Related to that, the platform was often regarded as more private where one can control what and whom to see relatively easily. The perception of Instagram was, however, not uniﬁed across the countries analysed. Czech respondents were not favourable to it, because, according to their perception, its options and usability for multiple purposes were too limited. On the other hand, young Macedonians preferred Instagram to Facebook due to its simplicity. Young Hungarians thought of it as a more private and intimate social media platform. In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, having an Instagram account was perceived as a hobby. Some young Serbs declared to have up to 3 Instagram proﬁles with each having a diﬀerent audience and purpose. Young Slovaks especially liked the short expiration time of Instagram Stories, which they often use to publish most intimate information and moments.
FUN AND EDUCATION WITH YOUTUBE
While music and entertainment are predominant reasons why young people watch YouTube, this platform plays an important role in self-education in all countries analysed.
WHEN COMMUNICATING TO YOUTH…
⊲ Do not use clickbait-style titles
⊲ Get the “active” users on board; shared content by peers is more trusted than ads
⊲ Make use of trusted opinion-makers & authorities to spread the message
⊲ Be aware of local sensitivities and political developments that young people follow
⊲ On the other hand, do not over-politicise; the young often feel tired of omnipresent political content and value the private, hobby-like and intimate space on their social media
⊲ Make them feel included, make them feel like an important part of the society, or engage them in solving a problem – younger generations often feel left out
⊲ Do not be patronising