The spread of misinformation is having a devastating impact right now in the world with the Coronavirus pandemic. More than ever, the world’s citizens need access to accurate, high-quality information.
One social entrepreneur who has made it his mission to educate young people and wider society how to spot false information and also report reputable news is Solomon Elliott, founder of The Student View.
Elliott, 27, grew up in Mitcham, South West London, raised by a single mother who fled to the UK during the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War in the 1960s. As a child, Elliott’s mother placed a significant emphasis on education. “I had a standard Nigerian upbringing growing up which centered around education” he recalls. When she observed that Elliott’s state primary school was not stretching him enough (“I used to finish my homework in the car going home”), his mother enrolled him for an exam for a place at King’s College School, Wimbledon, a leading private school in one of the most affluent areas of London. Elliott passed and gained a bursary and scholarship to the school. On his first day, he noticed a significant difference, “although the school was in the same borough it felt like a completely different world and navigating things took a while to get used to” he says.
As he progressed through the school and was afforded certain opportunities that his peers in Mitcham didn’t have, he started to wonder why there was such a stark difference in the education system. This coincided with a passion for news and current affairs that he had developed in his early teens, spending “most of my time watching Newsnight in my room wondering why politicians wielded so much power” Elliott recalls. Additionally, he took an interest in the role of journalists and their ability to hold those in power to account. A combination of these factors sparked an ambition to, one day, influence education policy and diversify the media.
After years of hard work, Elliott was fortunate enough to secure a place at the University of Cambridge where he read History. During his final year, he wrote a thesis on the American civil rights movement, focusing on the American tradition of armed self-defence, exploring the differing approaches adopted by Dr Martin Luther King Jr and other activist groups to nonviolence. He took particular interest in the ways in which the media played in shaping public perceptions and spoke to a number of activists including Julian Bond, the first African American nominated as Vice President of the United States in 1968 and Pulitzer Prize for History winner Taylor Branch.
In his final months as a college student, Elliott observed many parallels between the 1960s Civil Rights Movement era and the treatment of marginalised groups across the world. What concerned him most was the amount of misinformation spreading online and its ability to influence public discourse.
In September 2014, Elliott started working as a teacher in an inner-city London high school and identified that “the education system hadn’t caught up with teaching people how to spot misinformation”. Elliot set up an organisation that could teach the next generation not only how to spot misinformation, but to train them to become journalists, so that those from marginalised communities could have their voices heard.
Founding The Student View
Research from The Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that only 0.2% of British journalists are Black, with another 0.4% identifying as Muslim. A separate study by the National Council for Training Journalists showed that while 26% of white candidates were able to secure newsroom jobs six months after graduation, only 8% of their black peers found jobs in the same time period. Additionally, 51% of journalists went to private school despite private schools only accounting for 7% of the education system. As such, Elliott felt it imperative to focus on underrepresented children, similar to the ones he grew up with in Mitcham. He founded The Student View in 2016, which took the format of pop-up newsrooms in high schools, where his team and journalist volunteers help schools to set up a newsroom where students can become journalists by reporting on news in their local area. The workshops include training in fact checking, spotting misinformation and learning about defamation. The local news reports generated by the schoolchildren did not go unnoticed, with one story in particular leading to Transport For London changing two of their bus routes, which impacts 5.9 million journeys a year.
A turning point came in 2018 when Elliott gained his first media partner, the Financial Times, soon followed by support from other companies such as Google.org and ITN. The support from the partnerships meant that he can offer the workshops to high schools free of charge, with thousands of pupils across the UK having attended The Student View’s workshops to date.
Elliott’s venture has attracted much attention and he has been featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Media and Marketing 2020, the not-for-profit was also named as the world’s best news literacy project in September 2019 by the Global Youth & News Media Prize, an award judged by the European Journalism Centre and News-Decoder. He is also a member of the BBC Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group, where he advises the BBC’s Director General and senior leadership on its portrayal of Britain’s diverse communities on air and representation of them in their workforce. Elliott’s influence now has a meaningful impact on mainstream media.
Looking ahead, Elliott’s mission is to create a newsroom in every school, as he “wants kids to realise that they have a voice and can actively minimize the spread of misinformation within and about marginalised communities”. He is facing a significant challenge, but one I’m sure he’ll have much success in impacting generations to come.
This article is part of a series featuring diverse people making a difference. You can find more articles (click here) and if you have a story to tell or want to be updated as soon as new features are released message/follow me on Twitter @TommyASC91