Opinion | To Recognize Misinformation in Media, Teach a Generation While It’s Young


Marcus Stallworth, a founder of the social workers’ group who has taught an elective titled “Social Media: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly” at the University of Bridgeport, saw how deeply media affected students. “Social media — anyone can say anything,” he tells them. He also asks them to consider who is disseminating information and what their intent might be. For example, are posts coming from an official source like the governor, or from a potential scammer?

After connecting with Media Literacy Now, the social workers realized that state education policies could have wider impact. Qur-an Webb, a member of Welcome 2 Reality who saw that ordinary citizens could influence lawmakers, concluded that “these are people we vote for — they should meet with us.”

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. At Andover High School in Massachusetts, Mary Robb has taught the subject for 19 years. As part of Media Literacy Now’s advocacy, she and her students testified at a Massachusetts State House hearing in 2013.

Ms. Robb now includes media literacy in civics classes, where students might analyze war propaganda and assess the credibility of websites. “‘Fake news’ is not news that you disagree with,” she emphasized.

At Swampscott High School in Massachusetts, Tom Reid has taught media literacy for 15 years and testified at the State House. He pointed out that lessons should focus on critical thinking, rather than being “too focused on simply trying to get students to reduce their screen time.”



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