K-12 media literacy not panacea for fake news, report says
From state lawmakers to Facebook advertising executives, everyone seems to think digital media literacy is an antidote to the fragmentation of the media landscape and its attendant explosion of fake news and misinformation.
But a new report from New York-based think tank Data & Society offers a more cautious approach.
Evidence for the effectiveness of media literacy interventions is still limited, according to the report titled “The promises, challenges and future of media literacy.”
And there are many reasons to believe that we are facing a much bigger problem that only students can solve, regardless of their level of education.
“Media literacy has long focused on personal responsibility, which can not only imbue individuals with a false sense of confidence in their abilities, but also impose responsibility for monitoring the effects of media on the public, rather than on media creators, social media platforms or regulators. “, we read in the report.
Written by researchers Monica Bulger and Patrick Davison, the paper aims to provide a framework for better understanding current media literacy efforts and offers on-the-ground recommendations for moving forward.
Among the issues raised: the need to better understand the modern media environment, which is heavily influenced by algorithm-based personalization on social media platforms, and the need to be more systematic in assessing impact. various media literacy strategies and interventions.
What is “media literacy?”
The term “media literacy” 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.
This Education week video for the PBS News Hour covers the issue well.
Forms of media literacy date back to Plato and the ancient Greeks, notes the Data & Society report.
Modern notions of the concept began to emerge in the late 1970s.
Over the past decade, researchers who have documented the inability of students (and adults) to assess the accuracy and reliability of online information started to sound the alarm.
And then during the 2016 US presidential campaign, the idea really took offthanks to a flood of baseless conspiracy theories, made-up news and incendiary content on social media intended to exploit cultural and partisan divides.
In response, bills to promote media literacy in schools have been introduced or adopted in more than a dozen states. A range of nonprofits, businesses, and media have stepped up efforts to promote the curriculum and related programs.
Such efforts should be applauded, but not seen as a “panacea”, say Data & Society researchers.
Many existing efforts “focus on the interpretive responsibilities of the individual,” they write.
But, they ask, is it really media literacy when officials deny the existence of climate change, or when tech companies proliferate “intentionally opaque systems of disseminating information on media platforms social?”
And, the researchers ask, “if bad actors intentionally spread misinformation online in an effort to distract and overwhelm, is it possible to protect against media manipulation?”
Such concerns are not hypothetical.
This month alone, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election indicted 13 foreign individuals and organizations over an alleged social media scheme. to exploit divisions in American society, promote the election of Donald Trump, and wage “information warfare against the United States of America.”
And in a recent interview with Bloomberg ViewTrump’s former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon had this to say.
“The real opposition is the media,” Bannon told writer Michael Lewis. “And the way to deal with them is to flood the area with shit.”
Research and recommendations
Current media literacy efforts have shown positive effects, according to the Data & Society report.
A 2012 meta-analysis by academic researchers found that media literacy efforts could help build students’ critical awareness about the messages, biases, and representation in the media they consume.
Small studies suggest that media literacy efforts can change students’ behaviors, for example making them less likely to seek out violent media for their own consumption.
And more recently, two researchers found that media literacy training is more important than prior political knowledge when it comes to adopting a critical stance towards partisan media content.
But that research needs to become more robust, according to the Data & Society report.
Interdisciplinary collaboration is also key to generating new knowledge in fields such as social psychology and political science, where researchers investigate the role of “gut feeling” and political affiliation in how people analyze and interpret information online.
And those interested in media literacy must develop a “coherent understanding of the media environment”, the report argues, focusing not just on how individuals consume information, but on the role of institutions, technology companies and governments in developing new ways to create. and stream content.
“There is a need to rethink media literacy in the age of platforms,” the report says.
“From an evidence perspective, there remains uncertainty about whether media literacy can be successful in preparing citizens to resist ‘fake news’ and disinformation.”
Photo: ‘Fake news’ sites, such as the three pictured above, are becoming increasingly prevalent, fueling the concerns schools need to make teaching media literacy a top priority. –Education Week
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