Dr. Afsana Rashid resides in Kashmir’s capital city – Srinagar. She has worked with prominent national and local newspapers such as The Tribune, Kashmir Times, and Milli Gazette, and is also part of academia as an Assistant Professor at the Media Education Research Centre, University of Kashmir.
Despite a rich and extensive professional journey, Dr. Afsana harbored a desire to further immerse herself in the realm of media. So when FactShala rolled out its Media and Information Literacy programme, she saw it as a golden opportunity and promptly applied for a trainer role. FactShala provided her with a platform
“to learn, share ideas, and engage with communities at the grassroots level”
Dr. Afsana wanted to host FactShala training across the Kashmir Valley, a place marred by conflict and wrestling with competing narratives. In a region where misinformation and propaganda have been used as tools of influence, Dr. Afsana was confident that media literacy could pave the way for a more robust and healthier information ecosystem in the valley.
Determined to drive change in the region, she initiated the media literacy training workshop beginning up north, in the picturesque town of Singhpora in the Baramulla district. With FactShala banners on the wall and a whiteboard in place, Dr. Afsana gathered with a group of young, energetic, and enthusiastic individuals in a small, cozy training center room, right across the Srinagar-Jammu Highway.
The group comprised a diverse mix of both students and individuals who had left formal education to support their families through various income-generating livelihood avenues, including pashmina work, tailoring, craftsmanship, etc. The participants warmly embraced the initiative, with many of them making the effort to set aside time from their busy schedules to join the workshop. They expressed their previous lack of awareness regarding media literacy workshops, such as those conducted by FactShala, and were curious to explore and learn more about the subject.
Dr. Afsana felt the need to conduct training for young individuals, given their extensive use of social media. Social media plays a significant role in shaping public opinion, especially among the youth. Her goal was to equip these individuals with comprehensive media literacy knowledge recognizing that
“a well-informed citizen serves as an ambassador and paves the way for an enlightened and informed society”
Through the training, Dr. Afsana focused on educating and empowering youth on the responsible use of digital platforms, cultivating the ability to analyze the abundance of information available online critically, and equipping them with the tools to distinguish between facts and fiction, so that digital spaces can be transformed into safe havens for dissemination of accurate and trustworthy information.
Dr. Afsana used a range of activities and real-life examples to highlight the gravity of the misinformation challenge. The participants actively participated in the activities and openly shared their personal experiences and stories of misinformation.
A participant recounted an incident about a friend who had received an SMS informing him that he had won a lottery but needed to make a small deposit to claim it. The boy, eager to claim his prize, urged his parents to provide him with the money. However, his parents, being cautious, sought advice from various sources and ultimately decided not to give him any money, as they had discovered that many such fraudulent messages were being circulated duping people off their hard-earned money. This incident served as a reminder to the participants of the importance of being mindful and media literate while engaging with or responding to online content.
The training proved to be highly beneficial for the participants in that it imparted them with new knowledge despite them being daily internet users. Maryam Yousuf, one of the participants, candidly shared,
“Whenever we receive text messages on social media such as a warning about our SIM card deactivation or account blockage, our initial response is to react first and think later”
However, the workshop transformed her perspective and that of her friends. She said,
“Today’s workshop made us realize that these messages are deliberately designed to trigger panic. Instead, we should first check the message’s authenticity, verify it from a credible source, and then make an informed decision”
By hosting a FactShala workshop, Dr. Afsana initiated discussions and dialogue on media literacy, encouraging the youth to extend their learnings to their communities and families. In doing so, Dr. Afsana took one step closer to realizing her vision of fostering a robust and healthy information ecosystem in the valley.