How Google-backed MediaWise teaches teens media literacy
Last March, Google awarded $3 million to the Poynter Institute for an effort to combat misinformation by educating teens about media literacy. The project, called MediaWise, aimed to reach 1 million teens by 2020. Less than a year into the effort, program manager Katy Byron said she was ” absolutely convinced” that they will surpass this milestone in the next year.
“I’m not talking about a social media impression, although I will say that we have already passed one million social media impressions in less than six months. The ‘one million teenagers by 2020’ primarily refers to students going to see the curriculum taught in schools,” Byron said.
This week, MediaWise is kicking off part of its programming strategy with school assemblies for 1,700 students in Houston, Texas. Byron and his team will present tips on how to identify fake news, such as using Google’s reverse image search to validate the origin of images and checking fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact. . To keep the presentation interactive, the team will create polls on Instagram Stories where students can vote on whether they think an image is fake or not. This effort is ahead of a new fall program on fact-checking that MediaWise is working on with the Stanford History Education Group.
The internet has a problem with fake news, and Google is one of its many culprits. Google processes 3.5 billion searches per day, and the results that appear are not always reliable sources of information. Google highlights questionable content from sites such as Breitbart and Infowars, for example. YouTube algorithms have promoted conspiracy theories ranging from “Pizzagate” to those trying to debunk the moon landing. In response, Google launched the Google News Initiative last year. With funding from Google, MediaWise works with Poynter, SHEG, the Local Media Association, and the National Association for Media Literacy Education.
And Google isn’t the only tech company battling fake news. Facebook, another fake news culprit, recently awarded a million dollar grant to the News Literacy Project, a Washington-based nonprofit also tasked with helping young people identify fake news, as part of of the Facebook Journalism Project.
These investments in the fight against fake news are certainly good public relations for the tech giants. The projects arguably aren’t that expensive either when Google is worth over $766 billion and Facebook is valued at over $405 billion. And it remains to be seen how effective they will be in mitigating the spread of fake news.
But Byron believes in the work done by his team. “If misinformation is a disease, then the MediaWise project is like the Red Cross. That’s how I think. We help teens, especially middle and high school students, to discern fact from fiction,” Byron said.
Many statistics show a lack of media literacy. The one Byron often cites is from Stanford, which found that more than 80% of college students in 2016 didn’t know the difference between sponsored content and real news.
Along with school assemblies, MediaWise created educational materials on social media, including YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. These videos are usually hosted by MediaWise reporters Allison Graves and Hiwot Hailu.
A recently launched teen fact-checking network of middle and high school teens from across the country will also be contributing videos. MediaWise has 24 students in the network so far and plans to expand the program every few months, Byron said.
Madeleine Katz, 16, of Palm Harbor University High School, said she decided to join the fact-checking network because she thinks young people like her need more tools to tell what information are truthful.
“When people make decisions based on misinformation, it can negatively impact their own lives and the lives of others. It’s important that we empower our generation to be informed decision-makers, and I’m happy to be part of this educational process,” Katz said.
MediaWise has also worked with YouTubers who have given their own stories about sharing fake news and the difficulties of trusting the media. John Green, best-selling author and co-creator of VidCon, is launching a 10-part series called “Navigating Digital Information” on January 8th.
Byron said his team would make more public appearances in 2019, including hosting a panel at South by Southwest with Snap’s head of news Peter Hamby. And they will work to promote Stanford’s program once it is released in the fall.
A Google spokesperson said Poynter had been a great partner in leading the MediaWise project. But it’s unclear how long the effort will last; the spokesperson said Google would review it at the end of the campaign and added that any material created will have a long-term impact.
“The grant expires in June 2020, and I will officially say that I would definitely like to continue this project,” Byron said.