Media literacy: An important need that should be taught in schools
“… To stop misinformation, social media platforms, journalists, fact-checkers and citizens must take action.”
Should media literacy be taught in schools?
That is the question an article in The Interpreter at the Lowy Institute asks. It asks the question because media literacy is essential to navigating the online media where many people get their messages and which affects children’s opinion.
“… the UK Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills has found that only 2% of children have the critical literacy skills they need to tell if a message is real or fake,” reports the interpreter article.
The report says media literacy is a form of critical thinking. Today more than ever, critical thinking is a crucial skill needed not just by children but by the general public. All you have to do is check out social media to see how uncritical people can be if they mindlessly republish reports without knowing their origins or the motives of those who produce them.
The role of Russia’s fake news in the US elections clearly demonstrated how governments use manipulative psychological tactics to meddle in countries’ internal affairs. More innocent, but also potentially more damaging, is the inadvertent spread of fake news and misinformation by well-meaning people who fail to verify that what they post on social media is likely to be true.
The coronavirus infection is an example of how incorrect information is spreading rapidly on the Internet. The eater reported:
“The social media team at the Austin-based vodka maker – the best-selling liquor in America – is working overtime on Twitter today and has to keep explaining that their product is not a suitable replacement for hand sanitizer – it just smells like it is . The confusion arises amid a shortage of hand sanitizer as concerned members of the public seek to protect themselves from the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Identity politics a vector for misinformation
The interpreter article also suggested that identity politics is a gateway to misinformation and misunderstanding. “… disinformation opens up various psychological areas, such as the theory of social identity and the feeling of belonging to a group or social isolation”.
Participating in identity politics by uncritically adopting the values, attitudes and beliefs of a particular group can lead to hostility and rejection of information that contradicts the group’s assumptions and attitudes. Only information acceptable to the group is disseminated among its ranks. This “echo chamber effect” spreads fake news within the group, even if external evidence suggests otherwise. Familiarity becomes the basis for judging the validity of statements.
Like the appearance of knowing a lot when one knows little, it spreads misinformation
We see how easy access to information creates people who think they know a lot about a subject when in fact they know little. This is another gateway to personal vulnerability to fake news when the person shares their limited knowledge, the article says.
The phenomenon arose in part because social media manipulators weaken belief in expert opinion in order to sow the seeds of disbelief and advance their own agendas. We see this when climate change deniers attack scientists even though the deniers have no scientific qualifications. The result is an ubiquitous anti-expert stance where fake information and misinformation spread like contagion.
A vaccine against manipulation
In these circumstances, the article’s idea of teaching media literacy in schools makes sense. It could be a vaccine against manipulation and also vaccinate children against advertising.
Some countries are now taking the initiative to raise children. Factabaari teaches media literacy and fact checking in schools in Finland. Britain could soon have its own program.
Our role as a citizen journalist
As media workers, we citizen journalists can help discredit fake news and media manipulation by exposing them in our work. Fact checking websites like Snopes and others are useful, as is research into the background of stories.
You may find a new UNESCO publication: Fake News’ and Disinformation: A Handbook for Journalism Education and Training. The existence of the publication shows how fake news and the spread of misinformation and lies affect the beliefs and attitudes of the public.