[2022 Youth Verification Challenge_Mandarin-Chinese Zone Champion] Common interest in Disaster Preparedness Glued an Online Team

[2022 Youth Verification Challenge_Mandarin-Chinese Zone Champion] Common interest in Disaster Preparedness Glued an Online Team

The Google News Initiative APAC Youth Verification Challenge Contest 2022 that just ended last month was an event aiming to raise awareness and increase verification knowledge among the youth, and it was a continued and expanded effort of the first 2021 GNI University Verification Challenge. 

This year’s verification contest saw hundreds of young people aged between 15 and 24 participate, honing their verification skills and teaming up to win a grand prize in the final battle. There were four stages in the contest, the first and second of which involved fact-checking tutorials and the sharing of fact-checking and misinformation-busting experiences and examples from seasoned professionals. The third required participants to form teams and battle in their respective language zones, and the respective winners then went into the final APAC-region-wide live verification battle.

The Taiwan FactCheck Center hosted the Mandarin-Chinese zone contest, where teams from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia competed. This year’s contest lowered the age threshold to include high school students, and surprisingly, the three teams with the highest scores in the Mandarin-Chinese zone contest were all composed of high school students. 

The TFC had interviews with the three teams (readers can also find our interviews with the first runner-up and the second runner-up), where the students shared their backgrounds and their views on disinformation with us.

Shih Chien-yi (石芊宜) of Chi-Ying Senior High School and Hsiang Yuan (項淵) of Jianguo High School are two high school students that seem to have little in common: they go to different schools, join different kinds of school clubs, and live in different cities that are 20 km apart. 

But a closer look would reveal that they are in the same grade, each leads a school club, and both went to a youth training camp held by the Ministry of Education for disaster preparedness in late August, which was where the two befriended.

 Equipped with knowledge of disaster preparedness, the duo won the first place with correct answers to all five questions in the Mandarin-Chinese zone contest and became the representative of the zone to compete in the final APAC-region battle.

Image: Shih Chien-yi (石芊宜, L) of Chi-Ying Senior High School and Hsiang Yuan (項淵) of Jianguo High School won first place in the Mandarin-Chinese zone contest of the APAC Youth Verification Challenge 2022.

A Dark Horse in the Contest

Shih and Hsiang did not enter the contest until the third stage. Shih invited Hsiang when she coincidentally came across the contest info only after the first two chapters were already finished. The good thing was that the tutorials of the first two stages were all online for re-watch, and the two caught up and arranged “practice exams” for themselves.

“I found [the verification skills] not as complicated as I thought, as many of which are actually extensions of what we have already known in our daily life,” Shih said. “You can distinguish what information is true from what is wrong if you pay a bit more attention.”

Google Search Operators were what impressed Shih the most, with which it would be easy to obtain information in need. Hsiang also said that he has learned many new techniques he found useful and quickly shared them with his classmates.

Though Shih and Hsiang came to know each other only during the disaster preparedness training camp in August, that they were able to excel in the contest was probably related to the camp, Hsiang said. 

“Disaster-related disinformation abounds, next to Covid, as people are more likely to be attracted by sensational instead of correct information,” he said, citing the wrong messages about many buildings falling apart after the strong earthquake in mid-September as an example.

As youth disaster preparedness ambassadors, Hsiang and Shih have been trained to develop oral and campaigning capabilities and rational thinking. They will be touring the country to promote the idea of disaster preparedness, in which cautioning people against disaster-related disinformation and mistaken disaster responses is a key part. 

From Mandarin-Chinese zone to regional APAC-wide contest

However, while they found the questions in the Mandarin-Chinese zone contest relatively straightforward, they realized that they could have practiced more for the APAC-region battle, where the hurdles became higher to test the winners from different language zones.  

The last question in the final battle, for example, Shih said, was to find a Spanish reporter’s name that was reported to have been arrested in a news report, but the photo was replaced with that of another person. The contestants would get the wrong person’s identity if they simply used the photo to search for the reporter’s name in Google Images. 

“And we fell for the trap,” Shih said somewhat disappointedly, while Hsiang said they could have practiced more, especially when the research and verification involved a foreign language.

Always Stay Alert

Both Shih and Hsiang considered the contest a good experience for learning verification skills and sharpening thinking.

“We need to keep the habit of always being suspicious of new information,” Hsiang said, urging people to look for professional sources as he found that sometimes even parents and teachers could err when it comes to disinformation.

If all of us have basic abilities to discern and verify information, they said, disinformation can be effectively combatted.