Why are conspiracy theories unsuccessful in Finland? The role of education
In an interview with the EURACTIV România, Finnish Ambassador Marjut Akola explains how the Finnish students are prepared to detect fake news and disinformation.
EURACTIV: What was Finland's approach in the fight against Sars-CoV-2?
Marjut Akola: In the beginning of the pandemic, Finland’s main purpose was to protect the citizens and safeguard the capacity of the healthcare system. Extensive measures to prevent the spreading of virus were taken into practice.
At its plenary session on Wednesday 6 May, the Government adopted a resolution on a plan for a hybrid strategy to manage the COVID-19 crisis. The Government Resolution specifies the guidelines adopted by the Government for continuing restrictive measures to curb the coronavirus epidemic, and the controlled and gradual dismantling of restrictive measures. The Government Resolution guides the preparation of the authorities' official activities, on the basis of which further legislative and decision-making proposals will be prepared and further guidance given.
The measures proposed by the Government aim to prevent the spread of the virus in Finland, to safeguard the capacity of the healthcare system and to shield and protect people, especially those who are most at risk. Finland has so far succeeded well in curbing the epidemic. For this reason, it was possible to move from extensive restrictive measures to implementing a hybrid strategy based on the "test, trace, isolate and treat” approach.
The restrictions put in place to mitigate the COVID-19 epidemic are being phased out gradually and in a controlled manner which started on 1 June. The aim is to curb the epidemic while minimising the adverse impact on people, businesses, society and the exercise of fundamental rights. From the beginning of June, certain restrictions were alleviated, including the restrictions on gatherings, the organisation of events and the opening of public spaces. At the same time, restaurants and cafes will also be reopened to customers with certain restrictions. In line with the Government's decision, travel within Finland is allowed as long as health and safety guidelines relating to coronavirus are observed.
On 15th June, The Finnish Government determined, based on the situational assessment, that the COVID-19 epidemic can be managed using the regular powers of the authorities. In its plenary session the Government issued decrees repealing the use of powers under the Emergency Powers Act and announced that the current situation in the country no longer constitutes a state of emergency as referred to in section 3 of the Emergency Powers Act. The decrees repealing the use of powers under the Act and the end of the state of emergency entered into force on Tuesday 16 June.
EURACTIV: What was the response of the people? How did they receive the restrictive measures?
Marjut Akola: The citizens took the restrictive measures very well even if they were mostly strong recommendations. Older people stayed at home, towns and cities were empty of people and citizens also followed self-isolation when returning back to Finland. There is a large consensus of the need of everybody’s participation in this common endeavor.
EURACTIV: Many people from all over the world have fears that this pandemic crisis will be followed by an economic one. Does the Finnish government have a post-pandemic strategy?
Marjut Akola: Yes. The Vihriälä working group submitted its report on 8.5. on the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the Ministry of Finance.The report presents an assessment of the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis and of the measures to reduce the damage to the economy and to restore Finland after the crisis to a path of sustainable growth, high employment and sustainable public finances.
In its report the working group presents a three-stage economic strategy for dealing with the impact of the coronavirus crisis. The first economic policy task will be to reduce the immediate adverse effects associated with the restrictive measures and the fear that is prevalent, focusing above all on the ability of businesses to function. Following this, the economy will need a substantial stimulus. When growth returns, the economic damage must then be repaired and public finances consolidated.
It is paramount that the stimulus policy should aim at strengthening economic performance. This would not call for general tax cuts, further income transfers or additional benefits. Instead, the focus would need to be on ways of boosting the productive capacity and growth-seeking orientation of the economy as time goes on. This naturally points to investment in the basic frameworks in society that will support the economy through increasing demand in the short term and reinforcing the performance and productivity of the economy in the longer term.
Also, the Finance Ministry permanent secretary Martti Hetemäki presented the second part of a government-commissioned exit strategy plan 1.6. The document focuses on post-pandemic recovery and reconstruction. According to the report, the Government’s emergency planning should prepare for a possible second wave of the coronavirus pandemic that is more severe and more difficult to control than the first.
EURACTIV: During the state of emergency, Romanian authorities shut down news sites for promoting false information related to the pandemic. How have the Finnish authorities been fighting against fake news since the outbreak?
Marjut Akola: Finland’s comprehensive security concept refers to a Finnish preparedness model in which the authorities, business life, non-governmental organizations and citizens cooperate to secure the vital functions of society. Finland is a stable country with strong, democratic governance that forms a good basis for resilience.The learning outcomes of Finnish comprehensive schools have been found to be excellent in international comparisons in the PISA (Programme for International Students Assessment) studies, and for a long time fake news have not gained ground in Finland as an important part of education is to teach the pupils critical thinking and analytical skills. Also media literacy is one of the key components in the Finnish education.
On the other hand, the Finnish media played an important role in curbing fake news and providing the fact-based information on the Covid-19. Furthermore, Finns have had access to the information on Covid-19 provided by the authorities in social media, on the website of ministries and other public institutions. The Finnish government and the relevant authorities have given regular updates in terms of press conferences with Q & A.
For example, general upper secondary education must provide students with capabilities to meet the challenges presented by society and their environment and the ability to assess matters from different points of view.
EURACTIV: The COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm for conspiracy theories. In Romania, and the Republic of Moldova, we have heard a lot about ”5G mobile networks spreading COVID-19, Bill Gates plan to microchip people, COVID-19 is a virus made in lab, with the purpose to control the population through vaccine”. How is the situation in Finland?
Marjut Akola: The international conspiracy theories are of course known in Finland, but they have not gained any ground among the citizens.
EURACTIV: After 2014, the Finnish government launched an anti-fake news initiative in schools. Would you give me some details about this program? What age is the "right" age for a pupil to understand fake news/disinformation?
Marjut Akola: Promoting media and information literacies starts at a very early age in the Finnish education system. National Core Curricula for Pre-Primary Education and Basic Education include transversal competence areas called Multiliteracy and Information and communication technologies (ICT). The curriculum for Upper Secodary Education includes cross-curricular themes Multiliteracy and Media as well as Technology and Society. Competences related to MIL are practiced across different subjects and contents of curricula as part of these wide competence areas.
There is a wide variety of actors in the media education field in Finland. Besides schools, media education has taken its place in youth work, library services and early childhood education. Non-governmental organisations play an exceptionally important role. In Finland, media education work is carried out wherever children and young people are: not only in schools but also in different virtual communities and game worlds. Various non-governmental organizations maintain an active cooperation through which media education is implemented directly in the field. These activities are chiefly project-based. The Ministry of Education and Culture provides funding for a significant part of Finnish media education projects.
Literacy and reading are considered important national resources in Finland. Newspapers and periodicals play an important role in Finnish schools. The information that they give is new and up to date, and provided with a many-sided background.
Finland is also known for its comprehensive library network, high user and lending rates and effective use of technology and information networks in libraries. Public libraries have a significant role in media education. Teachers, schools and homes require support in putting media education into practice, and libraries are able to provide that support in many areas. From the libraries’ point of view, media education is not limited to maintaining traditional literacy skills and giving advice on information retrieval skills. It is equally important to acquaint the customer with the utilisation of new media and web services, as well as the critical evaluation of information.
It is also worth mentioning the role of homes as ways to encourage children for reading and the education of social media.
EURACTIV: Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová and High Representative Josep Borrell presented on Wednesday (10 June) a communication on ”Tackling COVID-19 disinformation”, in which foreign actors such as Russia and China were named for their role in propagating coronavirus-related fake news. Finland has a long experience with the Russian propaganda. Are there any cues or intelligence reports about the Chinese propaganda in the context of pandemic?
Marjut Akola: The European Union needs to tackle fake news, disinformation and cyber and hybrid threats regardless of where they come from. We need to safeguard our democratic values, human rights and the rule-of-law, as they can easily be endangered. Enhancing the resilience of the EU is one of the key priorities of the current European Commission. For that we need the support of every citizen and to understand the importance of critical thinking that can be achieved through education.
EURACTIV: Both China and Russia offer their help to European states. Is it a poisoned apple, a PR stunt or something else? What's your opinion?
Marjut Akola: COVID-19 is a global crisis that requires a global cooperation and solidarity. At the same time, it is essential that the EU continue to strengthen its strategic autonomy and economic resilience by developing the Single Market. The EU needs to stay united and build in the cooperation.
EURACTIV: At the beginning, EU faced criticism for lack of unity and for being slow in responding to the coronavirus outbreak. What are the lessons that EU and member states should draw from this pandemic?
Marjut Akola: We haven’t really had a pandemic of this extent in last hundred years. In every country it took some time before the authorities and the citizens understood the fast spreading of the virus. In the beginning we had very little knowledge about the virus and its behavior. We still cannot say, that we know enough about it. Also, each Member state of the Union had its own approach, some had stricter regulations than others, some recommended the use of masks and some not. Of course, the World Health Organization played an important overall role.
The European Commission is coordinating a common European response to the coronavirus outbreak. It is also taking action to reinforce the public health sectors and to diminish the socio-economic impact in the European Union as well as helping the Member states to coordinate their national responses (e.g. bringing stranded citizens home, procurement of protective masks etc). The Commission also provides objective information about the pandemic. President von der Leyen has established a coronavirus response team at political level.
There is also the 2,4 trillion € recovery plan for Europe to protect lives, livelihoods and jobs.
There is always a lesson that can be learned. In the future, we will be better prepared for similar situations. We need to preserve our achievements, but also to ensure that our Union remains a united and strong global player.
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