You can listen to the latest season of Media Minded on Spotify and Apple Podcasts


As our podcast, Media Minded, continues its journey across West Africa and takes a critical lens at the growing influence of Russia’s disinformation efforts, I wanted to reflect on my own experience in and out of the rabbit hole of state sponsored propaganda.

Turning back time, when I was a young student eager to have my voice heard during a time of youth unrest in the country, I wanted to vent my frustrations so I started a blog, which little did I know would later become the organisation I run today. The answer, I thought at the time, to the growing discontent of young people was Political Literacy. Few schools offer a comprehensive understanding of the democracy we all become enfranchised into at 18 (or 16 depending on where you live), leaving most of us disillusioned and disinterested.

I wanted to ensure every single young person is given the opportunity to understand how their democracy functions, a goal I still carry to this day. As I shipped off to university (I didn’t travel far… Harrow to Uxbridge) I decided that instead of ranting about this issue, I would do something about it.

So I slowly started putting together a set of workshops which I took to schools. To my surprise it took off, teachers were eager, and young people wanted to understand the system. As the idea began picking up steam, I started to get requests from media outlets like Times Red Box, TalkRadio and Russia Today (RT). Being an idealistic 22 year old with a belief that we should engage with everyone to foster a better, more cohesive society, I decided to speak to them all in the hopes that my message cut through.

It did. More schools in and out of London started taking interest in what I was doing. As the 2015 General Election approached, media outlets on mass decided to take young people’s voices truly into account, with Channel 4 commissioning my new social enterprise to set up the UK’s first ever Youth Leaders’ Debate. It was an incredible ride, but curiously the media outlet that took the most interest was… you guessed it, RT.

My generation’s relationship with the UK press is complicated to say the least. We grew up at a time when tabloids would openly call us ‘feral youth’ and immigrants ‘cockroaches’, getting to such a point that the UN Human Rights Chief had to urge the U.K. to tackle its tabloid ‘hate speech’ problem.

On reflection, this perceived disdain for ‘the next generation’ by our own media made a foreign media outlet interested in my work all the more appealing. As RTs interest in Political Literacy seemed genuine (it wasn’t) I engaged. Entering their plush studios in Millbank, I remember how nerve racking my first time interviewing was. A naturally shy person, never would I have believed radio and TV appearances would become a regular-ish element of my life. As I started doing more interviews for Sky, BBC and others, RT became just another outlet that wanted to give young people a platform, I thought. As time passed, I did have multiple experiences live on air, where I would be asked a question or two completely irrelevant to the topic I was asked to speak on. This wasn’t exclusive to RT, many radio and tv stations, hunting for ratings would attempt ‘gotcha journalism’, the notion of attempting to surprise the interviewee with a question to throw them off. However, the way RT did it was different. They would feed the questions in a friendly manner because it wasn’t about attempting to throw the interviewee off, but to get the answer they wanted.

I would leave the studio feeling strange, yet I kept thinking that a hostile approach to RT was only going to alienate those in our society that engage with it, so I persevered looking to collaborate, rather than alienate. After all, many were still engaging, from politicians to campaigners. As the years went on and the heat on RT from others in the media grew, one would be forgiven in perceiving a double standard forming. The criticism of the platform was warranted, yet where was the same critical lens on other outlets I thought at the time. After all, in 2016, both The Sun and The Daily Mail were accused of ‘fuelling prejudice’ in a report by the European Commission on rising racist violence and hate speech in the UK.

This all culminated in the 2017 World Festival of Youth event hosted in Sochi. As my scepticism of the media channel grew I was reassured by the organisers of the event that seemingly impartial and high profile individuals would also be speaking, including the chief executive of The World Assembly of Youth (WAY). If you didn’t know, I didn’t, they are the international coordinating body of national youth councils and national youth organisations, the British Youth Council (BYC) was a member. 

For all intents and purposes the event, at least on the surface, actually did bring together many young people from across the world in a constructive way. It was also my first experience of delivering a workshop in two languages, English and Russian. Even though the event and the many media organisations operating with state support seemed to show no relationship with each other, you could see a clear methodology was at play. Well organised events, opportunities for young people to gain ‘experience’ and giving a platform to voices often perceived to be ignored by western media created a perfect platform to recruit and create legitimate looking ‘sound bites’ to share messaging. I had seen behind the curtain and the path was clear. Media literacy needs to be integrated fully in schools and elsewhere to ensure we all have the critical thinking and emotional resilience to not be swayed by disinformation, because more often than not, it comes with a smiling face and a perceived helping hand.

In 2018 I became more selective of which media platforms I would lend my voice to, RT did not make the cut. Ironically the following year Ofcom fined RT for breaching impartiality rules over its reporting, which it followed up with a revocation of its licence in 2022. I fully stand by Ofcom’s decisions, though, it does not stop people from engaging with the channel online, via closed social media channels or via its app. This is where Media Literacy is vital. In a world with no gatekeepers, we must be armed to become our own. Education and understanding are the ultimate vaccines against misinformation and manipulation, which is why we at Shout Out UK are committed to ensuring these vital skills are in schools across the country and available online, platforming those that have spent their lives fighting manipulation. In 2022 we hosted our first live recording of Media Minded, a podcast we have produced since the start of the pandemic focused on disinformation. The episode was entitled ‘Antisemitism and the Roots of Hate: A Conversation with Former Extremists‘.

Now in its 4th season, we are expanding our reach with a focus on West Africa and Russia’s influence in the region. The latest episode entitled ‘Wagner: Russia’s Support of Violence in the Region and its Role in Spreading Disinformation’ can be listened to on Spotify and Apple Podcasts

The effect and influence of such propaganda is still being studied, yet multiple lessons can already be learned; for one, the media need to do better. One of the UK’s newest channels, GB News, has already been fined twice for breaching impartiality. If we are to successfully challenge disinformation in the future, having a credible place to turn to is imperative. Technology and social media platforms are tools, we should have a whole society approach that includes the positives tech can bring, not just the nihilistic negatives. Finally, knowledge (and critical thinking) is truly power.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.