Author:
Andero Kalju

University of Tartu starts training specialists to fight disinformation

This autumn, the Institute of Social Studies at the University of Tartu will open a new English-taught master’s curriculum, “Disinformation and Societal Resilience”, which aims to teach students how to deal with the spread of misinformation and thereby support the functioning of society.

Head of the Institute of Social Studies and Associate Professor in Sociology of Journalism, Ragne Kõuts-Klemm, says that information manipulation is a dangerous phenomenon that has manifested in recent years, for example, in cases such as Donald Trump’s election victory, Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic, but particularly acutely in the war in Ukraine.

“Unless we are aware of the dangers of the malicious dissemination of misinformation, democratic societies can be hit by unexpected changes. Disinformation can lead to wrong decisions, which may have dire consequences for individuals and the whole society,” said Kõuts-Klemm.

Information manipulation can damage the functioning of institutions and push democratic societies onto an undesirable path.

“We need people who know in which ways societies can be affected, who can assess which population groups may be targeted by information manipulation, and who know how to strengthen society’s resilience. Just like we tidy our homes to feel good there, we must also work daily to keep the information space clean. To do this, we need professionals,” said Kõuts-Klemm.

The one-year, student-funded master’s curriculum will train experts and officials working in communication, public administration and defence, as well as activists from NGOs and think tanks who are exposed to disinformation and information manipulation in their work.

The studies will systematically address the causes of the dissemination of misinformation and the factors ensuring and enhancing the sustainability of society. The situation will be analysed from the perspectives of media, communication, psychology, law, technology, international relations and policy-making. The students will also learn to know the mechanisms of influence and assess cyber threats and the geopolitical context.

Graduates will find jobs primarily in the public sector and non-profit organisations, for example, in the fields of strategic communication, policy analysis, impact assessment, cybersecurity and information intervention.

The English-taught programme welcomes international learners. Many societies are at risk of being targeted by information operations and malicious misinformation, and therefore, students from different countries and with different experiences can view and analyse the common features and differences of this phenomenon. Ragne Kõuts-Klemm sees particular value in the experiences of learners whose home countries are hit hardest by information attacks.

Twenty students are accepted. In the first two years, eight student places will be funded by the Embassy of the United States of America and two student places for learners from Estonia by our Ministry of Education and Research. The US Embassy has contributed $400,000, and the ministry €221,650 to support the development of the curriculum.

Applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and five years of professional experience in a related field, or a master’s degree or equivalent.

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