It’s Media Literacy Week, so we are devoting today’s Student Opinion prompt and our Lesson of the Day to the role of misinformation, disinformation and fake news in our society.
Do you think of yourself as a savvy news consumer? What about your friends? Is your generation good at distinguishing reliable from unreliable information on the internet? Why?
Do you think the spread of misinformation is a problem? If so, how dangerous do you think it is, and why? For instance, is it dangerous to you personally? To your family, friends, school or community? To our democracy? To the world in general? If so, how so?
Should media literacy be a required course in school?
In “To Recognize Misinformation in Media, Teach a Generation While It’s Young,” Amy Yee writes:
The Instagram post looked strange to Amulya Panakam, a 16-year-old high school student who lives near Atlanta. In February, a friend showed her a sensational headline on her phone that declared, “Kim Jong Un is personally killing soldiers who have Covid-19!” Of course, the news wasn’t real. “I was immediately suspicious,” Ms. Panakam said. She searched online and found no media outlets reporting the fake story. But her friends had already shared it on social media.
Ms. Panakam was startled by how often students “grossly handle and spread misinformation without knowing it,” she said. Yet media literacy is not part of her school’s curriculum.
So Ms. Panakam contacted Media Literacy Now, a nonprofit organization based near Boston that works to spread media literacy education. With its help, she wrote to her state and local representatives to discuss introducing media literacy in schools.
The subject was hardly new. Well before the internet, many scholars analyzed media influence on society. In recent decades, colleges have offered media studies to examine advertising, propaganda, biases, how people are portrayed in films and more.
But in a digital age, media literacy also includes understanding how websites profit from fictional news, how algorithms and bots work, and how to scrutinize suspicious websites that mimic real news outlets.
Online misinformation might seem like an incurable virus, but social media companies, policymakers and nonprofits are beginning to address the problem more directly. In March, big internet companies like Facebook and Twitter started removing misleading Covid-19 posts. And many policymakers are pushing for tighter regulations about harmful content.
What still needs more attention, however, is more and earlier education. Teaching media literacy skills to teenagers and younger students can protect readers and listeners from misinformation, just as teaching good hygiene reduces disease.
And she writes:
There is no silver bullet for disarming misinformation. But states’ media literacy education policies typically include first steps, like creating expert committees to advise education departments or develop media literacy standards. Next come recommending curriculums, training educators, funding school media centers and specialists, monitoring and evaluation.
States set guidelines for education departments, although local districts often have final control of curriculums.
Even without legislation, teachers can incorporate media literacy concepts into existing classes or offer electives.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
Have you ever fallen for misinformation or fake news of some kind? Have you ever unwittingly spread it? What happened? Can misinformation have real-world consequences? Give examples.
How many viral posts — whether articles, videos or photographs — do you click on each week? How many, on average, do you share on social media? How often do you check to make sure that what you are sharing or commenting on is real? How do you go about finding that out? How much do you care if an article purporting to be real actually is?
Where do you get your news — from television, social media, newspapers, radio, videos, websites, podcasts, apps, word of mouth? How reliable do you think this content is? Why? Which media sources do you trust most? Which are you suspicious of? Why? Do you think of yourself as a savvy news consumer? Do you think you can tell when something is “fake news”? How well do you think you can distinguish between fact, fiction, opinion and propaganda?
Does your school teach media literacy? Do your teachers incorporate media literacy lessons into your required classes, or are there electives that do so? Do you think any of these efforts are effective? What, if anything, has been helpful to you in strengthening your media or news literacy skills?
Should all schools provide media literacy education in some form? Should media literacy be a required course in school? Why, or why not?
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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.