What we learned holding a series of webinars on disinformation for the Ukrainian community

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Visual announcing one of the webinars (photos: Karina Zhukovskaya, Vian, CC BY-SA 4.0 / design: Vitalii Petrushko for Wikimedia Ukraine, CC BY-SA 4.0

Throughout 2023, Wikimedia Ukraine held a series of webinars for the Ukrainian wiki community on various aspects of verifying information and combating disinformation. Here’s a quick overview of this program: what it has consisted of, what has worked and limitations of this approach.

The concept – four online webinars 

From spring to autumn, we held four online training sessions:

  • Introductory webinar on the topic “Verifying information and countering disinformation” (May)
  • Webinar focusing on practical approaches to information verification (July)
  • Training session on the information space in Telegram, which is both a messaging app and a major news platform in Ukraine (November)
  • Webinar on generative AI and AI-driven misinformation (November) 

The events were open to everyone upon prior registration. Although we designed the webinars as events for wikimedians, there’s also been outside interest from educators and local government officials.

Typically 150+ people signed up for each webinar and 70-80 participants actually attended in real time (except for the July event, which saw 90 signups and 45 participants – likely because of the vacation season). Overall around 200 unique participants attended at least one event. Everyone who signed up received a recording and a collection of useful materials in a followup email. 

To hold the program, we partnered with a disinformation prevention team at the National Democratic Institute, a global non-profit NGO that has an office in Ukraine. Wikimedia Ukraine handled promotion of webinars and communication with the community, while NDI Ukraine provided technical support and took care of finding speakers.

What worked

The series of webinars has been positively received by the community and has seen better participation rates than on average for Wikimedia Ukraine’s online events. Here’s what helped make it successful:

  • A longstanding partnership with NDI Ukraine. Wikimedia Ukraine has been collaborating with NDI Ukraine to support our projects helping bridge gender gaps on Wikipedia, and this partnership paid off in developing one more line of work in this series of webinars. 
  • Inviting prominent external experts. The Wikimedia community has a lot of competency in countering disinformation on Wikipedia, but we can benefit from external knowledge of the broader information ecosystem. That’s what invited speakers, who included prominent Ukrainian journalists and media literacy trainers, could bring to the webinars. 
  • Offering participation certificates. For a subset of participants, notably educators, it’s important to have a formal verification of their participation which they can use as part of their formal professional development requirements. One participant told us that our webinars are much more interesting and useful than training events offered by her employer 🙂

Limitations of this approach – and what’s next

The series of webinars in this program have been designed to boost general media literacy of community members, but they haven’t focused specifically on countering disinformation on Wikimedia platforms. 

Starting early 2024 we both plan to continue organizing webinars in partnership with NDI Ukraine (for example, there’s been a lot of interest among community members around generative AI, and one event has hardly been enough to satisfy it) and hope to hold community discussions around the topics of disinformation on Wikipedia specifically.

One more challenge is thinking about how to keep people engaged in the online format. Our speakers have used interactive exercises and other ways to keep participants’ attention, but there are inherent limitations in the online events format.

In early 2022 we had plans to hold offline events on countering disinformation, but they have been thwarted by the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, which has gone on since then. While small offline events are possible with stringent security measures, we have to use the online format to achieve wide reach.

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