It’s Time to Make Media Literacy Mandatory in College Classrooms – Massachusetts Daily Collegian
All adults should have tools for responsible media consumption
We all know not to believe everything we read on the internet, especially social media, but do we really know how to do it effectively? It takes a keen eye to effectively sift through the information dump on our screens, and people need to be able to do more than just identify lies. Media literacy means being able to quickly distinguish fact from opinion, identify sponsored content, recognize bias, or sniff out an unreliable source. Yet most adults have no formal education on how to do this effectively. In a world as flooded with content as ours, media literacy is simply literacy. It is time for colleges to start prioritizing this type of training.
Disinformation has played a disproportionate role in many important recent events. A Buzzfeed News analysis showed that in the three months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, fake news garnered more engagement from readers on Facebook than real election stories posted by large networks. Four years later, the conflagration of falsehoods raged just as steadily, sparking paranoia about the safety of postal voting and the American electoral system. Now widespread disinformation about the coronavirus vaccine complicates the deployment process, especially in communities that have already been hit hardest by the pandemic.
This isn’t all that surprising given that lies tend to spread faster and more widely, especially in an environment where most consumers don’t have the tools or training to remove large amounts of content. to which they are constantly exposed. A 2019 study by MIT researchers found that fake tweets, especially those that spread false political narratives, are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than tweets with factual information.
Additionally, people tend to seek out information that matches their personal and political views. Social media, where about one fifth of Americans get their news, play on those prejudices. Algorithms on social media platforms show their users exactly what they want to see and what their friends, who likely have similar political views, are sharing. This creates “Filter bubbles” this bias feeds and plays in confirmation bias, making users more susceptible to lies that assert their already established worldview.
To make matters worse, the amount of content that users sift through has also increased recently. Visits to a variety of digital outlets including social media, entertainment, news and retail sites increased in April 2020, then stayed around 30 percent above average before the pandemic. News sites have also recorded an increase of around 28% in traffic since the start of the pandemic.
While media literacy is slowly crawling in classrooms across the country, its prevalence and program rigor vary widely. This has visible repercussions for young people. A 2016 A study by researchers at Stanford showed that college students in college struggle to distinguish fake news from real and are equally poor in other media literacy assessment tasks.
Most college kids, for example, couldn’t differentiate sponsored content from traditional posts. Meanwhile, high school students rarely questioned the credibility of photos online, even those related to bizarre stories. University students also struggled to distinguish mainstream and marginal sources of information.
At UMass, if students arrive without knowledge of the media, there is a good chance that they will leave again. General education requirements are broad and do not require students to take a course that specifically covers media education. So, unless a student is pursuing a major that requires classes on this topic or researching it on their own, they can end their formal studies without ever learning how to navigate the news properly.
Media literacy teaches students what to look for and where to look for it when they are on the Internet. It gives people a greater awareness of their media environment so that they can consume information critical even if their sources have a partisan lean. These are the types of skills that enable a person to master media in an increasingly digital world.
It is important that people have the skills to recognize disinformation when they first see it and not contribute to its spread. Once information is learned, it is very difficult to unlearn or correct it. Psychology shows that even when a lie is corrected, people tend to remember the original message and not the amendment.
Today’s media landscape makes the wise and responsible consumption of information a fundamental and important skill. By better incorporating media education into the higher education curriculum, we can ensure that all graduates are sent out into the world equipped with these necessary skills. By adding media literacy to the requirements of general education, colleges like UMass can modernize their curriculum to better serve both the students and the communities they will one day join.
Lily Robinson can be contacted at [email protected].