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Fake News Cleaner and the Growth of Media Literacy Training

Patience and a bar of soap can fight misinformation, but so can legislation.

Key points

  • In Taiwan, the nonprofit Fake News Cleaner teaches seniors (and others) media literacy in a low-tech way.
  • Media literacy efforts might be more successful if legislated, as is occurring in many countries.
  • Media literacy is linked to psychology undergraduate learning outcomes and to psychological science.
bohdanchreptak / Pixabay
In Taiwan, a nonprofit, Fake News Cleaner, gives out soap to entice people of all ages to take their media literacy classes.
Source: bohdanchreptak / Pixabay

With free bars of soap and lots of patience, volunteers with a nonprofit in Taiwan recruit students to attend free media literacy classes. Initially aimed at seniors, Fake News Cleaner now offers programs to all ages, including elementary school and university students. But they started with seniors, whom they saw as most vulnerable, in part due to a technology gap. Taiwan has a vast network of fact-checking organizations, including MyGoPen. In fact, Taiwanese people can fact-check images, videos, and text through the MyGoPen account on the popular LINE messaging app, which employs both a chatbot and real people. Yet, many Taiwanese seniors don’t have access to these services because they are uncomfortable with technology.

Fake News Cleaner recruits seniors where they are—in houses of worship or in parks—and signs them up for old-school, (mostly) technology-free media literacy training. For example, they teach about content farms that use clickbait to make money, then instruct seniors to look for a byline and ask questions about the origin of the material. Only at the end of the course does Fake News Cleaner introduce technology, helping seniors to add the LINE messaging account of the fact checker MyGoPen.

Legislating Media Literacy

Fake News Cleaner has hosted more than 500 events as of April 2024, a huge success. But many believe that policies are necessary for widespread changes to occur in how people interact with information, especially with regard to teaching students at the primary and secondary levels. In many countries, including the United States, that policy change is starting to occur, as documented by the nonprofit Media Literacy Now. The 2023 Media Literacy Policy Report documented moves toward “media literacy or digital citizenship education” in 19 states. (We previously wrote about legislation that has had great success in Finland.) The 2023 report outlines steps that states have already taken, along with best practices including methods for training and credentialing teachers. Further, the report calls for all of us, including “concerned citizens” to get involved in this movement. Even if you aren’t involved with education, you can talk to people in your community about the importance of media literacy for a robust society, and you can contact your government representatives to tell them you support these policies.

Steering Clear of Politics

An important parallel between the work of Taiwan’s Fake News Cleaner and the legislation in many U.S. states is an avoidance of politics, which likely contributes to the success of these efforts. Fake News Cleaner does not discuss politics in its classes and eschews funding from governments or political parties. In the United States, media literacy efforts have been adopted or debated by states that lean Republican, like Texas and Florida, and ones that lean Democrat, like New Jersey and California. And many of the efforts within these states are bipartisan. We previously wrote about the bipartisan initiative that led to the adoption of media literacy training in New Jersey schools. Indeed, the Republican lead sponsor of the law in the New Jersey Senate said: “This law isn’t about teaching kids that any specific idea is true or false. Rather, it’s about helping them learn how to research, evaluate, and understand the information they are presented for themselves.”

Psychology and Media Literacy

Media literacy might not seem like psychology, but the field of psychology is central to education in this area, especially with regard to thinking critically and developing an understanding how to develop and test research questions. As one Media Literacy Now chapter leader, Olga Polites, explained, “If we can ensure that our K-12 students learn the critical thinking skills necessary in order to be able to identify credible sources of information, to ask questions, to create their own information, we would really be moving the needle on helping them become more civically responsible citizens [italics added]."

We see these goals reflected in psychology curricula worldwide. In the United States, undergraduate psychology curricula are often developed using the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major, 3.0, released in 2023 (and for which one of us was an author; Halonen et al., 2023). Among the Guidelines 3.0 learning outcomes are several that relate to aspects of media literacy, including “Describe the characteristics and relative value of different kinds of information sources (e.g., primary vs. secondary, peer reviewed vs. non-reviewed, empirical vs. nonempirical).” One of us heads a related project that wrote the International Competences for Undergraduate Psychology (ICUP), updated in 2024 and developed by a team of about 120 psychology educators from more than 40 countries (Nolan et al., 2024). Similar to the APA Guidelines 3.0, the ICUP includes several learning outcomes related to media literacy, including “Evaluate claims by considering source credibility and validity, the potential for bias, and evidence of multiple perspectives.” Clearly, these goals would be even more attainable at the university level if media literacy education were taught universally at the primary and secondary education levels.


Halonen, J. S., Dunn, D. S., Kreiner, D., Lewis, L., Mena, J. A., Naufel, K. Z., Nolan, S. A., Richmond, A. S., Ronquillo-Adachi, J., Rudmann, J., Stoloff, M., & Thompson, J. L. W. (2023). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major, version 3.0: Empowering people to make a difference in their lives and communities. APA Board of Educational Affairs Task Force on Psychology Major Competencies.

Nolan, S. A., Cranney, J., de Sousa, L. K., Goedeke, S., Gullifer, J., Hulme, J., Jia, F., Job, R., Machin, T., Narciss, S., Foster, L., Illescu, D., Ju, X., Kojima, H., Kumar, A., Tchombe, T., Waitoki, M., & IRGUPO Consortium. (2024 preprint 19 March). Beta.R2 version: International Competences for Undergraduate Psychology.

Huizhong Wu. In Taiwan, a group is battling fake news one conversation at a time — with a focus on seniors. Associated Press. April 1, 2024.

Carly Sitrin. New Jersey becomes first state to mandate K-12 students learn information literacy. Politico. January 5, 2023.

Lauraine Langreo. A Media Literacy Requirement That Starts in Kindergarten? New Jersey May Start the Trend. EducationWeek. November 23, 2022

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