With militarized disinformation, media literacy is now a vital skill
Stephen Dunn / AP
Sunday August 15, 2021 | 2 a.m
Illinois became the first state to require the teaching of media literacy in high schools, with lawmakers approving a bill there last month to include a teaching unit on the subject from the U.S. school year 2022-2023.
This is exceptional service for the children of Illinois, and Nevada should follow suit to help protect our children from misinformation.
Awareness of news and social media is alarmingly high in the United States, and not just among young people. We are bombarded with examples of its effects: a significant number of Americans believing in the Big Lie, refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 on the basis of the false belief that they contain microchips or make people magnetic, falling so far into the abyss of QAnon that they alienate family and friends etc.
Just this week, a QAnon follower confessed to killing his children because he believed they were going to become “lizard people” and join other lizard people who secretly ruled the world. He specifically cited the QAnon groups as “educating” him about the existence of the Lizard people. Fragile minds are rife with horrific manipulation, and people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are happy to help.
In the midst of this inability to distinguish fact from fiction and truth from far-right propaganda, we see disastrous effects on our democracy and our society. The January 6 insurgency, the campaign to suppress Republican Party voters in states across the country, a new COVID-19 outbreak fueled by vaccine resistance, and more destruction occurs because too many Americans have been misled by the far-right media and international actors who are weaponizing disinformation against us.
Social media won’t do enough to curb the spread of disinformation, as it takes advantage of the lies that destroy our society, and gullible people are sucked in as soon as they ‘do their research’, which in effect means that an algorithm force feeds them from a Facebook post. or a Youtube video that ends them.
Increasing media literacy among young people is an important step towards solving the problem.
It’s not about making it compulsory to read what they read, who they watch on TV or which influencers they follow on social media.
It’s about teaching them to question what they read and watch, determine if the information is from a credible source, and verify the content they consume.
One tool involves “side reading,” a form of fact-checking in which people open new browser tabs and look for multiple sources to verify information. Other elements include teaching children how to tell the difference between news and opinions, how to spot telltale signs of misinformation (such as content disguised as coming from a credible site but a slightly different URL), and disliking them from it. idea that a news source is credible simply because it has a large audience.
This is a crucial need, as evidenced by numerous surveys and studies. Example: In a study conducted by the Stanford History Education Group in 2016, only three of 3,000 high school students who were shown a video allegedly showing US election fraud could tell the video was from Russia, even though a quick search would have revealed that he had been debunked.
Meanwhile, a Pew survey in 2018 found that less than 35% of American adults could differentiate factual statements from opinions, and Americans were much more likely to accept information as accurate when it supported their political beliefs.
With increasingly sophisticated propagandists and foreign actors in the production of disinformation, media literacy is gaining in importance.
Not educating our kids about it is like giving them the keys to the car without driver training, and sending them out on roads with signs designed to confuse them and steer them wrong. Let us also not forget that foreign and domestic terrorists direct disinformation and propaganda against young people with the aim of recruiting and radicalizing them.
Indeed, it should be seen as an essential life skill. We now live in an infosphere, and being informed consumers of information is as fundamental to being in our society as any skill taught in school. Students should know how the Internet can lie to them, identify biased media of all types, be able to separate fact from opinion.
Not understanding the media is dangerous not only for our children but for our democracy. While democracies thrive when people of different opinions come together to find solutions to problems, the process suffers when there is no shared set of facts or one party believes in savage conspiracies. Try to find common ground with someone who thinks party leaders are involved in an international ring of pedophile murders or that wildfires are caused by Jewish space lasers. While we’re at it, can we also offer adult media literacy classes?
Some countries are ahead of the United States in addressing these issues, notably Finland, where media education begins in elementary school and has been an important part of the curriculum since 2016. Why this focus? Russia, located next door, has been bombarding the country with disinformation for years in an attempt to divide and destabilize it – the same thing it is trying to do in the United States
In response, the Finns developed an integrated curriculum to teach multiplatform literacy. Math students learn, for example, how to manipulate statistics, and fine arts students learn how to modify images to distort meaning.
“Kids today… don’t look for the news, they stumble upon it, on WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat,” a Finnish high school teacher told The Guardian. “Or more precisely, an algorithm selects it, just for them. They must be able to approach it critically. Not cynically – we don’t want them to think everyone is lying – but critically. “
The setpoint works. In a study measuring 35 European nations in their resistance to disinformation, Finland was ranked No. 1. The study was based on measures of a number of indices – press freedom, transparency and social justice among them – which provide means for external actors to sow doubt and division.
It’s time for the United States – and Nevada – to take a similar approach.
Tackling this problem is about protecting our children, each other and our democracy.