Finland Leads The Way

I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that misinformation, disinformation and propaganda are at the heart of all of the other problems we face. After all, as any medical practitioner will tell you, prescribing a remedy requires an accurate diagnosis of the problem, and to the extent that our informational Wild West misleads us, such accuracy eludes us.

Worse, the Internet’s multitude of “facts” allows us to choose a “diagnosis” based upon our ideological preferences–we believe what we want to believe. If the problem is lazy poor folks, there’s no point raising taxes on the rich. if the problem is greedy rich folks, higher tax rates will be part of the solution.

If my own diagnosis is correct–if all of our problems are rooted in or exacerbated by our population’s growing inability to separate truth from fiction, wheat from chaff–is there a prescription for that?

Finland’s approach looks promising.

Finland ranked No. 1 of 41 European countries on resilience against misinformation for the fifth time in a row in a survey published in October by the Open Society Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. Officials say Finland’s success is not just the result of its strong education system, which is one of the best in the world, but also because of a concerted effort to teach students about fake news. Media literacy is part of the national core curriculum starting in preschool.

The article, from the New York Times, began with an example:

A typical lesson that Saara Martikka, a teacher in Hameenlinna, Finland, gives her students goes like this: She presents her eighth graders with news articles. Together, they discuss: What’s the purpose of the article? How and when was it written? What are the author’s central claims?

“Just because it’s a good thing or it’s a nice thing doesn’t mean it’s true or it’s valid,” she said. In a class last month, she showed students three TikTok videos, and they discussed the creators’ motivations and the effect that the videos had on them.

Her goal, like that of teachers around Finland, is to help students learn to identify false information.

The United States was not included in the survey, which was limited to European countries, but there’s plenty of evidence that misinformation and disinformation are widespread in the U.S.  Polls show that Americans’ trust in the news media is at record lows.

A survey by Gallup, published in October, found that just 34 percent of Americans trusted the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly, slightly higher than the lowest number that the organization recorded, in 2016. In Finland, 76 percent of Finns consider print and digital newspapers to be reliable, according to an August survey commissioned by a trade group representing Finnish newspapers that was conducted by IRO Research, a market research company.

If we Americans were inclined to learn from others–not a noticeable national trait, unfortunately–we might take a lesson from the article’s description of what Finland has going for it, including a public school system that ranks among the best in the world, free college, high trust in government, and even higher respect for teachers.

Ah, well…..

In all fairness, there are some Finnish advantages we don’t share: Finnish is spoken only by about 5.4 million people, so disinformation produced by foreign speakers or bots is more  easily identified because of grammatical or syntax errors. In the U.S., not only do we have millions of people for whom English is a second language, we also have tens of millions of native English speakers whose command of grammar, spelling and syntax makes this former English teacher weep. So some clues that are available to Finns aren’t available to us.

And unlike far too many Americans, Finns evidently believe it is the proper goal of the schools to equip students with intellectual tools–not  to indoctrinate them with a particular view of their country or the other people who inhabit it. The article quoted one Finnish teacher who explained that she believed her job was to teach students “methods they can use to distinguish between truth and fiction. I can’t make them think just like me,” she said. “I just have to give them the tools to make up their own opinions.”

I’m sure those misnamed “Moms for Liberty” would disagree. Strenuously.

In the U.S., the goal of too many self-identified “patriotic Americans” isn’t to equip students to think, or to spot disinformation–it’s to ensure that they accept the correct disinformation.

No wonder so many Americans believe “facts” that just aren’t so.


  1. Trump was right, we live now is a swamp that needs draining. Urgently. He made up the type to entertain his acolytes, but was correct about the swamp.

    He misled the world by misnaming the swamp using the swamp. How’s that for irony?

    Correct, you guessed right. The swamp is entertainment/news/misinformation/advertising/propaganda which are indistinguishable because that makes them adictive and there’s is no more reliable market than our instatiable hunger to wile away our time, now having so much of it free. Reliable markets are so lucrative.

    How can the busiest place in the world have so much free time? One explanation is that we are also entertained by activity, busyness, frenzy, but much less so, surviving. Oh, the other ingredient is demographics, diversity. So our busyness is dispropotionately distributed, virtually none of it consumes the calories that are availble to us and good tastine and, relatively, cheap.

    We are retired and travel and play, golf, for instance. We have economically very comfortable children. We are supported by the state. We attend meetings. We read for continuous learning.
    We have plenty to do, none of which is necessary, individually or collectively. We have achieved our goal of plenty to go around but lost ourselves to never ending boredom. That’s not what we are made for.

    Let’s presume that we could enforce a penalty for our unnecessary frenzy which would be a time out. That would spread untill, guessing here, 20% of us were really working one day a week each. Yes, the economy would crash. Wealth redistribution up would starve. The profit meters imposed by the economists would go red. So what?

    So what?

  2. FYI. I fired by editor after today’s post. You can tell. She wan’t necessary. She did contribute for clarity and following sensible grammer rules but you can figure out what I mean without her, right? Now she can go outside and hike and explore and tend to her garden and chicken.

  3. We need just enough economy to support only survival stuff, generously shared and limited to necessary stuff. No external entertainment.

    It would take generational turnover for our culture to adapt but it took generational turnover for our present culture to be inflicted on most of us all of our time.

    An old management proverb is you get what you measure. That got us here but also made it no longer the right measure now that we have made it our only measure.

    Let’s choose to readapt. Measure calories burned, by age. Make sure our goal is nobody is threatened by having the necessities for reliable survival.

    We could call it a new religion.

  4. Lest you credit me for original thinking.

    Read any of Kim Stanley Robinson books. Start with “New York 2140”.

    The plot was imagined into being by millions of us but aptly and professionally expressed in compelling words by the author. When I read his imaginary scenarios it organized a lot of my brain clutter and brought what I was thinking into the only reality that we have, what we imagine triggered by our senses revealing memories of earlier moment.

    Perhaps it will for you too.

  5. That certainly sounds like a curriculum the US could use. I quietly harbor a burning desire to write a textbook focused on media literacy and would love, some day, to teach a course on it. I think it’s incredibly important to recognize when you’re being manipulated.

    I don’t know much more about Finland than the headlines, but do they have the same problems we have with media being much more about the money than imparting information? The US has a huge problem with doubting the media, but to be fair to US – the media in general does do quite a bit of spin. It’s not hard to see why people would assume they’re being lied to when all of the media claims the other media is lying – and they’re not always wrong about that.

    Fox lies massive and they will proudly tell you how they are the largest news entity in the US. The others certainly don’t do as much blatant falsehoods, but are known to cherry pick/tell lies of omission/spin, etc. It might be asking a lot of parse through all that. I think I’m pretty smart, but I definitely believe some things that aren’t true and I don’t know it.

    TL;DR – The US media environment is a mess. Do other countries have the same problem?

  6. “In the U.S., the goal of too many self-identified “patriotic Americans” isn’t to equip students to think, or to spot disinformation–it’s to ensure that they accept the correct disinformation.”
    And there ya go.

  7. The goal of the media here in Indy is not so much to spread “misinformation” as it is to not spread any information. Case in point, a minuscule report of a murder on a residential street in my neighborhood last Friday has yet to be followed up with the name of the victim, the exact address of the crime, a possible motive for the crime and perhaps the name of any criminal being sought. Also last week there was a very big fire at an abandoned apartment building on E. Washington Street. Not a peep about that or the leaded glass windows that once adorned the old building that went missing just days before the fire. No news story there even as hundreds of homeless walk our streets because there is no housing for them. But we have gotten coverage of a guy waving the flag from an overpass bridge, and big coverage of the remodel of some store by a local woman who had a show on HGTV.
    What we have in Indy is Chamber of Commerce news. What we don’t have is real news reporting.

  8. So, while at the gym yesterday, one of the TV’s on the wall was showing the History channel, as they advertised their show about “Ancient Aliens!” We get fed such garbage, in the name of profit making entertainment!!
    It is apparent that in the U.S. what is put out as information is attached to agenda, not empirical evidence.

  9. There are many people in the education profession who are dissatisfied and frustrated by the way schools in the U.S. are structured, financed and operated. They are caught in a huge national organization that is very resistant to change. That is why I originally supported the idea of charter schools as small laboratories which would have the flexibility to test innovative ideas for improving education.
    Unfortunately, that plan was largely overwhelmed by reactionary forces who saw charter schools as an opportunity to go backward rather than forward. Apparently, many charter schools became enclaves devoted to controlling what children learn rather than teaching them how to learn.
    There are probably charter schools out there that are fulfilling their original purpose. We should look for them, celebrate them, reward them and copy their successes. At the same time, we should be collecting good ideas from Finland and anyplace else we can get them. In the meantime, we have an obligation to see that today’s children do not fall prey to the “anti-woke” propagandists like Florida Man. It’s a lot to accomplish, but necessary if we want progress instead of stagnation in education.

  10. If you’re on Facebook, there’s a meme going around about how there are only a handful of media companies owned by a handful of the super wealthy. They are feeding us the news and we don’t know what we’re missing! Where’s that liberal media? Come out! I haven’t seen liberal media in the US.

    As JoAnn says, follow the money. That’s all that’s left.

  11. Well, folks, bide your time. Many MAGAs are lying in wait to abolish the US Dept of Education. Then, see what happens…

  12. I have a question. How does the Open Society Institute take its measure? Do they poll a percentage of teachers, citizens, and media sources? What questions do they ask? I’m not doubting the conclusions, just curious. I no longer get calls from polling people. I suppose it’s because, as the young person calling asks the questions, I tend to say that I know that the question is designed to elicit this response, but it’s not that simple and I go on to explain why. By the time they finish they’re exhausted. I’m sure they keep lists of numbers that should never be called again and I’m also sure my number is at the top.😁

  13. Good question, Peggy. I am sure George Soros and his son do not need to manipulate their data, but we need to know the details to eliminate bias.

    Our misinformation has an intent that goes to Washington and the State Dept/CIA. What is the underlying motivation of the information? Who is controlling the data/message?

    Once we learn who, then we can distinguish the whats and wherefores…

    For instance, MSNBC has a liberal bias aimed at Democratic voters, but it’s not a Leftist media by any stretch of the imagination. It claims to be the woke media, but it’s pandering and propaganda designed to attract those who follow the common wisdom spewed by the DNC. The GOP has Fox News, etc.

    Education can teach us that we are an oligarchy controlled by the few instead of a democratic socialist country (Finland) controlled by the masses. Suppose the masses are well educated (which they are in Scandinavian countries). In that case, the politics of managing the government will have to be truthful — the people won’t tolerate propaganda and lies at any level because the people and government are so closely tied together.

    We were meant to evolve into democratic socialism, but we’ve gone down a Fascist path since the 80s to where we are now. Democratic Socialism is the solution to late-stage capitalism, but it will be difficult with an uneducated populace, and misinformation is the rule.

    If you’ve noticed, the far-right Fascists have caused quite a bit of confusion in European countries.

  14. The sign of a burgeoning authoritarian rulership is eliminating non-affiliated media, and book burning.

    The rapid change of school textbooks, and certain school districts having students watch Fox News, and it’s compatriots in kind, during social studies class, just Grease’s the skids over the edge of the precipice.

    The Romans perfected it, the Germans made perfect use of it, the Chinese are doing it now, and the Russians of course are famous for it. Why do you think you had so many claiming that Hitler wasn’t quite as bad as history says, or that Vladimir Putin would be a better president than anyone elected in this country, people prefer propaganda, they prefer to be willfully ignorant, because it helps their own mind formulate a reality that is fantasy.

    Why do you think this sort of thing keeps happening over and over throughout history? It’s because the evil men do has a codex, not rocket science After an explosion of fanatical patriotism along with their manipulation of the media and educational systems, when the fanatical anarchy starts to die down, when those who are considered unworthy have been ostracized, banished, or buried, the new order is in full bloom. And, his heading, in this case, the probable final incarnation of this repetitive routine.

    Why? Because this planet has become too small, and, resources will dictate how severe authoritarianism will treat its citizens. As an interested free moral agent, if you haven’t seen the fuse burning, because it’s been lit for a while, then, you’re following a blind guide!

    EnFuego conflagration! Societies which are full of criminals, murderers, anarchists, self-designed Patriots, The wilfully deluded, those whom thrive on bread and circuses, throw up their hands in either disbelief, defeat, or approval!

  15. Some of the distinction in teaching how to avoid misinformation can be attributed to the homogeneity of language and population Finland enjoys, but its international ranking as a happy place and outstanding educational practices are matters of choice – and they have chosen well among the choices available, from Goebbelspeak through free speech run amok. We have not, and much of the reason why is the failure of our educational system to teach critical thinking in favor of leaving the field open to policy by propaganda.

    To do: Reform educational practices with a view toward eventual replication of the Finnish example, whatever our lack of homogenity of language and population – and persevere – because such a hoped-for outcome will not be an overnight task. For starters we can insist that our tax money be exclusively available to the funding of public institutions and undertakings, including education. Then we can insist that the likes of politicians such as De Fascist keep their noses out of the establishment of curricular standards. Then. . . . ad infinitum –

  16. John, I lose many readers often. One is due to my inexpert command of my first and only language. English. I am an engineer so most people expect that to be the case. Another is that my mind remembers experiences that I have had that reward my thinking creatively, very broadly, towards the future and sort of uniquely. My unique culture.

    Like thin paint it takes many coats of who I am to cover the gap between me and most people but there are exceptions. That makes me like a preacher or teacher. Folks have to put up with me for an extended period of time to understand and interpret me but most leave from boredom before the whole subject gets covered.


  17. Well done, John!

    “The sign of a burgeoning authoritarian rulership is eliminating non-affiliated media, and book burning.”

    This is one path in a declining capitalist society as the few look to control their wrested power from the many. Not a pleasant place to be as authoritarianism grows. Look at the Twitter files where our government censored online accounts for holding differing views from the mainstream controlled channels. Deplatforming has become the rule by our government in order to maintain their power.

    It won’t last very long…the people won’t tolerate oppression…even if Trump does it. We either take the other path of democratic socialism or decline further into a government encroaching on people’s rights via Fascist rule.

  18. Democratic Socialism has a nice ring to it. Now what, exactly, does it mean? How does it differ from what we now have which is already a blend of democracy, socialism and capitalism? Is it based on a constitution and, if so, how would that constitution differ from the present one? Do you envision tweaking the present system or discarding it and starting from square one? Is it possible that you want people to jump on a different bandwagon without knowing where it is headed and what tune it’s playing? The devil is in the details.

  19. We already have democratic socialism in this country, but the emphasis on such admixture is on the capitalist side of things, and I don’t think fascism is necessarily what we can expect if such admixture either ruptures or continues on grounds that if we can endure four years of Trump we can endure further oppression as a society. Biden is doing a good job in equalization of these two competing elements with additional taxes on the rich and FDR-like legislation (see Wagner Act) encouraging unions and increased wages, but, admittedly, much more remains to be done if we are to have a fairer distribution of the fruits of this economy, and we should continue agitation to that end.

  20. Sharon – a couple of thoughts

    Democratic Socialism was founded by the likes of Michael Harrington, author of The Other America. He, and others, believed that the old school socialist were ineffective trying to be a third party, and believed that the best way to effect change was to influence one of the major parties, the Democratic Party. Their policies are basically New Deal 2.0 (compare with FDR’s Second Bill of Rights).

    In Finland, teachers are highly educated, highly paid, and highly esteemed. Thus, it is very competitive to get into an education program. Some Charter schools may be of high quality, but their defining attributes is to be freed from the burden of pay scales and educational requirements for their teachers. To emulate Finland, we would have to restructure the entire educational system to include those teachers who are truly dedicated, but also to instill the esteem that teachers deserve (Note – I have a sister-in-law and niece with careers in education, so there may be some bias).

    On a related note, I remember my college sociology prof saying that the main purpose of a college education is to learn “crap detection”. I think the Finns are correct – start a lot earlier.

    Another excellent post, Sheila!

  21. Sharon Miller, I have appreciated your entrance into this blog ever since you joined. Your comment today (now yesterday) about democratic socialism are right on. Thanks.

Comments are closed.