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Media Literacy

Senator Danny Burgess wants schools to teach social media skills


It is probably not an exaggeration to say that some students spend as much time on social media as they do in school.

Students in Florida public schools would watch social media in the classroom if a bill proposed by a Polk County legislature gains momentum next year.

Florida Senator Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, tabled a bill on Wednesday requiring public schools to include “social media literacy” in their curriculum. Burgess, father of three children under 10, said he would like students to develop greater awareness of the dangers they can face on popular internet platforms and mobile applications.

“To be honest, social media is incredibly ubiquitous in our society, you can access it anywhere, any minute,” said Burgess, whose district includes northwest Polk County. “It can provide a lot of easier accessibility for things you might want to look for or do, but in my opinion there are far more risks and dangers, long-term consequences that I think our children, students, need to be aware of, how they use these platforms. So it’s an attempt to simply educate. “

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The succinct bill would change existing laws that regulate teaching in public schools. It would direct the Florida Department of Education and county school boards to develop a curriculum to teach social media literacy. The bill provides a detailed definition of social media – perhaps the first in a proposed Florida statute, Burgess said – but doesn’t specify what literacy entails.

The bill does not mention social media platforms. The most popular are Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and WhatsApp.

“It’s not just how you posted this picture and one day you will be haunted,” Burgess said. “It’s also – there’s a lot of danger out there, literal danger, you know criminals, and that’s why we have to make sure we educate them about horrific things like human trafficking that is all over the place, and that’s it, it’s all about it around.”

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The instruction could fit under existing guidelines, Burgess said. Florida requires a “character development” component from kindergarten through 12th grade that is incorporated into social studies, language arts, or other curricula. Schools wouldn’t devote entire courses to an overview of social media, Burgess said.

The material would also be put online so that parents can access and discuss the ideas with their children.

Burgess, who is in his first term, said he did not know if similar laws had been passed in other states.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it did, but honestly, it’s kind of an idea that we wanted to move on,” he said. “That’s why I’m really curious to see whether it is like that and to find out whether it was like that. I hope it does because I think it’s so important, but if not, maybe we can be the model for the nation. “

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republicans have accused Facebook and Twitter of censoring conservatives. At DeSantis ‘urging, Florida lawmakers passed a law in this year’s session to punish platforms banning politicians and “journalistic firms” that violate the sites’ terms of service, such as Twitter did after the January 6 attack former President Donald Trump did the US Capitol. This law faces court challenges.

Burgess submitted a draft law at this year’s meeting. But he said the new bill was not driven by political concerns.

“There is definitely no agenda or no – what word am I looking for? – no specific attitude to be addressed here other than knowledge is power, ”he said.

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Among the many criticisms that social media platforms have been exposed to in recent years, Facebook in particular has been targeted because it has allowed political and medical misinformation to be disseminated among users. Burgess said misinformation could be addressed in the statement, but not from a political or ideological point of view.

Although he didn’t unveil the bill until Wednesday, Burgess said he has already received positive responses.

“Yes, I’ve had some bipartisan, positive feedback,” he said. “I mean, this is really just an attempt to protect the children and empower the parents. So it’s really something that I think will break down barriers and really, hopefully, find strong bipartisan support. It seems like this is going in that direction. “

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At least one Democrat, Rep Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, appears to be well-disposed towards the proposal – although she also raised a political issue.

“Social media is one of the most important means of communication in our society,” Driskell, a native of Polk County, said via email. “It is therefore important that our young people are well informed on how to navigate and search through all the information available online. We have regularly seen misinformation threaten people’s health and safety, and on January 6th we saw them threaten our democracy. Senator Danny Burgess’ SB 480 is designed to equip our children with social media skills so they can stay safe and thrive. “

The 60-day session of the legislature begins on January 11th.

Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or 863-802-7518. Follow on Twitter @ garywhite13.


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