Media literacy

Media literacy: an antidote to disinformation

Education experts are calling for combating crazy conspiracy theories, baseless rumors of widespread voter fraud and disinformation about COVID-19 with media literacy.

After attending Black Lives Matter rallies and protests in August, some of Virginia Boyle’s students came to her class at Dr Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School saying they had heard BLM Chicago was supporting the looting. , and was it true?

“It was something we could clarify,” said Boyle, who teaches English and media literacy at the alternative school. Using newspapers, news broadcasts and the BLM Chicago website, she asked students to dig for answers to questions about the organization of BLM Chicago, the content of its platform, then their thoughts on the movement. “I consider media literacy to be the urgent skill that students need now,” she said.

His students discovered the truth in a television interview. The president of BLM Chicago explained that although one member expressed personal support for the Chicago looters, BLM did not support criminal behavior. “They were relieved,” Boyle said.

Credit Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School

Virgina Boyle teaches at Dr Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School in Chicago.

It was a good time to learn in a year that has had a lot of it – crazy conspiracy theories, baseless rumors of widespread voter fraud and so much misinformation about COVID-19 that health experts say that we have an infodemic in addition to the pandemic. As the fallout from these things continues, the Illinois General Assembly and the United States Congress will consider measures to promote media literacy in schools this year.

In Illinois, State Representative Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, a Democrat from Cicero, introduced a bill that would allow public high schools to offer a media education unit. Meanwhile, at the federal level, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota will reintroduce the Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act, which provides grants for the development of media literacy guidelines and programs. Klobuchar initially introduced the law to Congress in 2019 over concerns that foreign adversaries were using information warfare to weaken democracy. Media literacy would help students better recognize disinformation and be better informed, she said.

While many schools and educators across America teach media literacy in different ways, few schools have a formal curriculum or requirement for it. “As always, we’re slower to adjust our educational standards to the very rapid changes we’re seeing in our social world, which is natural,” said Jonah S. Rubin, assistant professor of anthropology at Knox College in Galesburg. .

Literacy in schools is no longer just about learning to read and write. “I think too often people relegate media education to a research paper. It’s not that. Especially with distance learning, it’s literally built into everything a student does, ”said Earliana McLaurin, instructional technology coordinator at Oak Park and River Forest High School. With 97 percent of McLaurin’s students having smartphones, like most Americans, they are saturated with media on a daily basis. In and out of the classroom, students consume information and produce projects in all mediums, from video to audio to writing. Students need to do more than spot the falsehoods, although this skill is considered a starting point.

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Credit Michael Spikes

Michael Spikes is a media literacy expert at Northwestern University.

Think of all the content we browse as an ecosystem of information, unique to each of us, said Michael Spikes, Northwestern University doctoral student and media literacy expert. Some ecosystems only include social media, while others contain a mix of information from various platforms such as news programs, blogs, podcasts, and videos. “We’ve never lived in a time when we have so much access to so much information, and it almost seems like we are the least informed,” Spikes said.

It’s important to question our ecosystem, he said. “Depending on how a person’s ecosystem looks, it can contain a number of pollutants,” said Spikes, who worked with teachers on the media literacy program. He tells educators not to cling to the ever-changing platforms their students use. Rather, they should teach students to assess information and stay curious. For example, information that elicits a strong emotion of fear or anger deserves a closer look, as its intention may be to manipulate people’s feelings.

Spikes likes New York’s Stony Brook Center for News Literacy’s VIA (Verification, Independent, Responsible) model to determine if content qualifies as journalism. If a point of sale verifies the facts with a second source independent of the first; is independent of external interests of control or influence; and is responsible in working to make sure that the information he shares is true, going so far as to be transparent when he makes a mistake – then that is journalism. Otherwise, the point of sale produces some other form of content, such as entertainment or promotional material.

But even news organizations produce commentary and entertainment, which sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish these elements from direct news. The Chicago Tribune recently moved its columnists to a separate section of the newspaper from reporting to better distinguish between the two. People can also go to outlets like AP News and Snopes.com to check the facts.

In addition to questioning our ecosystem, we need to be aware of how we strive to be well informed due to the way we are wired to consume and value information.

At the best of times, people naturally gravitate to their underlying fundamental beliefs and use information to agree with those beliefs, said David N. Rapp, professor of psychology and learning sciences at the Northwestern University. For example, if people think the government is corrupt, they are more likely to believe that there could be widespread voter fraud. Our brains also give more weight to information the more we see it, the more effort others put into giving us information and how much we already think something is true.

If we see a lie in more than one place, even though we know it to be false, our brain will make us think more often than we will see it. After hearing news from a friend, seeing it on social media, and then hearing a commentator talk about it, we may start to think that the lie must be true. Plus, when groups like conspiracy theorists go to great lengths to prove a point, we think all of that effort must have uncovered some facts. Then we fail to be skeptical about the things we think we know. All of these flaws are part of being human, Rapp said.

Add in stressors, worry about our life, feelings of being in danger, and we don’t have the ability to analyze information as carefully as we normally would. “It’s definitely a factor that makes people susceptible to fake news,” Rapp said. Not only are we more likely to be duped during these times, infamous groups often take advantage and feed us with misinformation when we’re most likely to believe it. Consider all the myths circulating about the COVID-19 vaccine, one even saying that we are all going to be implanted with microchip surveillance technology. Some are scandalous, but other manipulations are more subtle. A social media post may look like a legitimate news article, but is a side effect of a vaccine. We know that vaccines have side effects, and perhaps we are concerned about the safety of the vaccine. So it doesn’t seem too unlikely that the news is true, and we don’t think about verifying it. In this case, the consumer is manipulated by the source of information and his own thoughts. People need to be aware of both their information ecosystems and their own predispositions.

At Oak Park and River Forest High School, history and English teachers and librarians approach media education by encouraging students to engage with different points of view, teaching them to trusted sources and by getting students to think about how they can be responsible digital citizens. Exercise shows social media posts from everyday people, celebrities and even presidents, to show that just because someone posts something doesn’t make it true.

Matt McMurray, an instructional technology teacher at the OPRF who previously taught history and civics, knows that when students say “I heard that,” they’ve given credit to the information they’re on. point to share. He found that students often give the same weight to sources with very different credentials, such as a news clip and a Twitter video. What worries him the most is the often casual acceptance of information. “This year has done a lot to expose the extent of the information and evaluation crisis that we are going through,” he said. “Students aren’t yet equipped to navigate a lot of things and obviously a lot of adults aren’t either. ”

Experts say it is essential to teach students not only how to assess the information they consume and their biases, but also to help them see how this shapes their beliefs and how they think about the world, and then how they are. ‘engage in it. “We should not underestimate the emotional and political sophistication of our young people. They are deeply and critically engaged in the world we live in, in all kinds of creative ways, ”said Rubin, who, through Knox College, studies media literacy and how it shapes young people.

He believes that media education should be taught in all subjects so that students learn to interact with the media in science, health, politics, and more. For example, teaching students how scientists verify their results provides a better understanding of why a vaccine could be important in the fight against a pandemic Rubin said: students to form themselves as the kind of hard-hitting citizens who are able to participate in the sphere public and that will help us solve all the huge challenges we face, right ”.


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