Media literacy

“Fake news” and fake tweets raise the stakes for media literacy

Media literacy is suddenly a priority issue for schools, thanks to the recent presidential election, a series of ‘fake news’ reports and new research showing how ill-equipped young people are to assess criticize the information they encounter online and via social networks.

As a result, educators find themselves behind the eight ball, supposedly helping students negotiate everything from internet pranks, to partisan political advocacy disguised as unbiased news, to an elected president who used Twitter to spreading baseless allegations originated in unfounded conspiracy theories.

The stakes are high, say the Stanford University researchers behind a widely cited recent study, “Assessing Information: The Cornerstone of Online Civic Reasoning.”

“We are concerned that democracy is under threat by the ease with which disinformation on civic issues is allowed to spread and thrive,” the group wrote.

These concerns are not entirely new. For years, researchers have documented the widespread inability of students to assess the trustworthiness and trustworthiness of online information. In 2006, for example, University of Connecticut researcher Donald Leu conducted a study in which college students unanimously fell for an internet hoax about an invented endangered species – an octopus that lives in trees.

Last year, Leu’s New Literacies Research Lab discovered that less than 4% of 7th graders could correctly identify the author of scientific information online, assess that author’s expertise and perspective, and make informed judgments about the overall trustworthiness of the site they were reading.

Educators and advocacy groups have responded by promoting the notion ofmedia education.” The term generally refers to the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create information using multiple forms of communication, with the broader goal of creating informed and responsible citizens. A coalition of non-profit organizations announced last month a campaign to put pressure on states to adopt new legislation that would promote such teaching in schools.

Ultimately, experts say, the best antidote to free online information is a culture of critical thinking. They also want to release specific strategies to help students spot fake news, review sources of online content, weigh the evidence behind claims, and compare competing viewpoints.

But the “decimation” of school libraries, an emphasis on standardized test preparation, and slow teacher preparation efforts have left the K-12 sector struggling to keep pace with dominating communication technologies. the lives of their students, says Leu.

“We are not even close to preparing citizens who can continuously assess information online to make informed decisions about their lives,” he said.

“Misleads us and blinds us”

In recent weeks, “fake news” stories have garnered considerable national attention.

Before the presidential election, for example, BuzzFeed News Identified more than 100 such sites (all supporting then-candidate Donald J. Trump) are run from a single city in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Two weeks later, BuzzFeed Reported that 20 top-performing election stories from “hyperpartisan hoax and blog sites” generated more engagement on Facebook during the critical months of the presidential campaign than the 20 top-performing election stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times and NBC News.

Useful resources

Educators, librarians, journalists and advocacy organizations have developed resources to help schools understand and teach concepts and skills related to media literacy and digital citizenship. Some of the most popular resources include:

  • Fundamentals of Media Literacy Education and Media Literacy Resource Center, National Association for Media Literacy Education
  • K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculumcommon sense media
  • Position statement on media literacyNational Council of Social Sciences
  • MediaLit LMC KitMedia Education Center
  • Utah Digital Citizen Resource Library
  • Educational resources from the Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island
  • Media Literacy Information CenterFrank Baker
  • How to spot fake newsFactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center
  • Digital Resource CenterStony Brook University Center for News Literacy

Source: Education week

And last week, a a gunman walked into a pizzeria in Washington aimed at “self-investigating” an unsubstantiated internet conspiracy theory that was shared on Twitter by General Michael Flynn’s son and Chief of Staff, appointed by President-elect Trump to be the security adviser national of the country. (Trump later dropped young Flynn of his transition team, and General Flynn attracted new reviews for sharing other false information via social media.)

Still, fake news isn’t the most pressing challenge facing schools, said Sam Wineburg, a Stanford education professor who helped lead the university’s recent study.

Far more worrisome, Wineburg said, is the prevalence of private groups pushing their own agendas under the guise of unbiased news.

In the Stanford study, for example, researchers showed college students a screenshot of the homepage of the Slate.com site. The page included a “native ad,” an ad designed to look like a news story, but labeled with the words “sponsored content.” More than 80% of students in the study thought the ad was genuine news reporting.

High school students, meanwhile, were asked to compare the headlines and graphics associated with two pieces of science content on the media outlet’s The Atlantic website. Both dealt with climate change. The first was a traditional report and the second was sponsored by Shell Oil Company. Nearly 70% of students in the study said that Shell advertising was the most trusted source of information.

“On every political issue that impacts the daily lives of ordinary citizens, there are private interests working to sway public opinion by pretending to be something they are not,” Wineburg said. “It misleads us and blinds us.”

Ask key questions

For schools, media literacy is an “enduring problem” that predates social media and the internet, said Lawrence Paska, executive director of the National Council for Social Studiesa membership association that supports social studies education in K-12 and higher education.

Whether reading a print book, newspaper article, or Facebook post, it is important that students can “ask key questions, compare competing claims, assess credibility, and reflect on their own process of reasoning,” according to the group’s position statement. .

A first step, Paska said, is to ensure that students and teachers have an effective framework for assessing the credibility of information they encounter. He pointed to a series of questions developed by the National Center for Media Literacy Education: Who paid for this? When was this done? Who could benefit from it? What remains of this message that might be important to know? How was this shared with the public?

The NCSS also believes that students learn to become critical consumers of information by researching, planning, and creating their own media messages.

This kind of “constructivist” approach is also embraced by Claire Beach, a seasoned teacher, filmmaker and media literacy advocate who was one of the driving forces behind a law recently enacted in the state of Washington demanding that the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction lead an effort to design and share with schools best practices in media literacy and digital citizenship.

“Once you start giving students the tools to understand when they’re being manipulated, you’re blown away by the changes you see,” Beach said.

The same principles can be applied to magazine ads, reality TV shows, and viral social media posts. But trying to keep up with the sheer volume of media, information, technology and platforms now available can wear down even the most engaged teachers, she said.

“It’s like going from sitting to running marathons,” Beach said.

To help keep pace, Wineburg of Stanford and Leu of the University of Connecticut advised students to learn and practice new skills specific to reading new digital media.

An example: Leu suggested that when preparing reference lists that include online information, students should include a short written description of why a source was selected and how they determined it was credible. .

Students should learn to distinguish between “verified” and “unverified” accounts on social media, a technique that can be used to help identify legitimate sources of information. (The Stanford study found that high school students seemed to largely ignore these conventions.)

The biggest challenge

But the biggest challenge for schools, the researchers agreed, is keeping pace with the rapid – and often unsettling – changes in the broader information and media landscape.

Two weeks after winning the presidential election, say, President-elect Trump sent a message to its more than 16 million Twitter followers. He said he had “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions who voted illegally” – a baseless claim, originally made on websites that promote unfounded conspiracy theories, which was quickly demystified by many media outlets.

Of course, politicians and celebrities from all political walks of life have long been guilty of manipulation, misinformation, and outright lying.

But the example of Trump’s tweet (and others like it) helps show how different the current landscape is, Leu and Wineburg pointed out. The internet and social media have made it easier and more direct for powerful entities to spread false or misleading information on a large scale. When such entities also suggest that the factual accuracy of public information and statements matter less than the emotions they inspire, democracy itself can be threatened, argue the two researchers.

The good news, according to the researchers, is that the Internet is also the best fact-checking tool ever invented.

“We have an abundance of information in front of us,” Wineburg said. “Whether this makes us more thoughtful or more stupid is a matter of our educational response to this challenge.”


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