MARCHL: Establish a curriculum for media literacy
As the internet became widely available, billions of people were given access to an extremely powerful tool without the training required to navigate it. The internet’s anonymous, monetized, and viral nature makes it a sewer for misinformation and conspiracy theories. It may come as no surprise that countries around the world are facing information crises that seriously threaten to destabilize their societies.
In the short term, several steps can be taken to alleviate these crises. For example, Facebook has used artificial intelligence to flag incorrect information and offer users more precise content, especially in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. The tactic marked around 50 million pieces of content in April 2020, but remains a very imperfect solution as it does not tackle the problem at the root: most people still do not know how to navigate the internet. To effectively combat the spread of misinformation it is necessary to implement robust media literacy programs for adults and children.
Media literacy is an instrument to prepare future generations for the fight against increasing information warfare. According to an index compiled by the Open Society Institute, Finland is the leading country in terms of media literacy. In Finland, the local fact-checking association, Fact Bar, has transformed its methods into a school curriculum that includes a thorough fact-checking process that describes disinformation, misinformation and misinformation and teaches students between clickbait, satire, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and other content on the internet.
Since most people view media literacy as simply learning to read sources and verify facts, promoting internet literacy practices requires a shift in mentality. Media literacy should be seen as a national security priority and approached in a multimodal way. Instead of just focusing on consuming written information more consciously, it is equally important to be able to recognize manipulated images and videos.
As it stands, the American education system does not pay enough attention to the various ways in which information is disseminated online. Media literacy courses often just scratch the surface of online information by focusing on written sources, as students typically use written sources to complete projects. Instead, curricula should also examine the audiovisual, where misinformation, disinformation and extremist content often circulate.
Additionally, an emphasis on web design and user interface is required for media literacy as it is important for people to understand content that is strategically placed to grab their attention: many social media websites are built to have content show that often confirm our own prejudices. By implementing comprehensive media literacy training, more people will understand that algorithms often recommend highly sensational and emotionally provocative content instead of factually correct content.
Outside of the curriculum, misinformation and disinformation can be treated as an epidemic. A number of researchers have suggested vaccination efforts for internet users: Just as vaccination against a virus is achieved by exposing an immune system to a weakened version of the virus, this proposed method shows users a weakened version of misinformation and explains how to deal with that misinformation can resist. Studies have shown this technique to be effective in combating climate change misinformation and political fake news.
Adults often have the impression that Generation Z knows how the Internet works, as we are considered digital natives. And to a certain extent, so are we. However, our familiarity and convenience with the Internet also make us prone to losing our vigilance. Most of us have never learned the skills to think critically about every part of the web we come across and that has to change.
Georgetown University is well placed to play a leading role in media literacy education. By including media literacy content in the curriculum, the university can do its best to ensure that students are the best digital citizens they can be. In addition, Georgetown can continue its partnership with local Washington, DC schools to develop an effective media literacy curriculum for students from the first grade.
Implementing media literacy campaigns in education to effectively counter malicious content on the Internet is the first and most important step in combating the spread of misinformation.
Lea Marchl is a junior at the School of Foreign Service. Fighting conspiracies appears online every second Friday.