Media literacy is needed more than ever [column] | Local voices
The U.S. intelligence community released a report in March that described how the Iranian and Russian governments orchestrated digital attacks on U.S. social media platforms to influence the 2020 election.
According to the report, they did so by bombarding Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with fake profiles, bots and armies of trolls who would engage directly with US citizens in the comment sections and deliberately attempt to foment an ideological divide. . They also created and shared memes containing fake news and managed social media pages that perpetuated polarizing ideologies. Their mission was simply to sow division among American voters.
The implications of the report are substantial and reinforce what many media researchers have known for some time: We are vulnerable without media literacy. The digital information landscape can be difficult to navigate; it is full of pitfalls and largely unverified. Anyone can post anything online at any time.
As the total number of hours of screen time and internet usage continues to increase rapidly, cultivating media literacy programs has never been more important than now for our country. Through such education, we can better protect ourselves from unwanted influences and help ensure that future generations are well equipped to engage in the digital world.
Media literacy is defined by researchers as the ability of a person to assess, access, interpret and create various forms of media. For example, knowing how to send a direct message to someone on Instagram, being able to upload a video to YouTube, or understanding how to use hashtags, could all be part of media literacy.
At the same time, one would also learn important interpretation / critical skills such as how to recheck information sources, question the credibility of user profiles, spot scams and manage private information. on all platforms.
Overall, the goal of media literacy is to give people the tools to navigate the many communication technologies we use and how to critically analyze the many messages we receive.
At present, this type of education does not occur everywhere in the United States. Although some legislators and individual institutions have made attempts, there are still no national standards. As a result, even states that have media literacy often lack evaluation measures, making the program inconsistent or ineffective.
Media illiteracy is a problem in all age groups. For example, researchers at Princeton and New York University have found that baby boomers disproportionately share fake news. Meanwhile, researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that most college students couldn’t tell the difference between a sponsored or actual news article, and most students couldn’t identify biased content from groups. independent as lobbying firms.
As a communication teacher, I saw a lot of this firsthand. Virtually all of my students use social media on a regular basis, but few have received media literacy training.
It is clear that this problem is pervasive and is affecting society now. The need for reform has never been greater. To meet this need in Pennsylvania, policymakers introduced legislation to expand media literacy in K-12 grades. It specifically called on students to educate themselves about the risks of sharing personal information online, dealing with cyberbullying, and using social media sites responsibly, among other skills. The bill ultimately died in the State House Education Committee, but it was a clear first step towards greater attention to media education in our state and in our public discourse.
As a researcher, teacher and citizen, I believe that media literacy is an important part of modern education and can benefit everyone in our community (and nation). Whether you like it or not, most people get all of their information from the Internet. If people have a question, they go to Google. If people are feeling lonely or bored, they go to social media. If people want to be entertained, they go to YouTube. We are constantly connected and the pandemic has further accelerated our immersion in the digital world.
As more of society spends every waking moment staring at computers, cellphones, virtual reality devices and smart televisions, we are doing future generations a huge disservice by not teaching education to the media in our schools and the rest of our community.
I’m old enough to remember a time without the Internet. In elementary school, we were taught to physically use the library card catalog to find good sources of information.
Yet today, although most of our information comes from social media, search engines and other digital platforms, we have not adapted our national education standards to respond to these changes. Instead, we send our loved ones into the digital world hoping they know what they’re doing and won’t fall victim to unwanted influences.
Through media education, we can stop hoping and start preparing our community to become skilled media consumers and educated citizens.
Lukas Pelliccio, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and Media / Communication Researcher. He grew up in Lancaster County.