K-12 Media literacy isn’t a panacea for fake news, report argues
From state lawmakers to Facebook advertisers, everyone seems to think that digital media literacy is an antidote to a fragmented media landscape and the accompanying explosion of fake news and disinformation.
However, a new report from New York think tank Data & Society offers a more cautious stance.
According to the report, entitled “The Promises, Challenges, and Futures of Media Literacy,” the evidence for the effectiveness of media literacy interventions is still limited.
And there are many reasons to believe that we are faced with a much bigger problem than students can solve on their own, no matter how well educated they are.
“Media literacy has long been focused on personal responsibility, which not only instills a false trust in the individual in his or her abilities, but also the responsibility for monitoring the effects of the media on the audience and not on the media, social media platforms or regulatory authorities lays. ”“, it says in the report.
Written by researchers Monica Bulger and Patrick Davison, the document aims to provide a framework for a better understanding of current media literacy efforts and offers recommendations for further development.
Topics addressed include: the need to better understand the modern media environment, which is heavily driven by algorithmic personalization on social media platforms, and the need to more systematically assess the impact of various media literacy strategies and interventions.
What is “media literacy”?
The term “media literacy” generally refers to the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and compile information using various forms of communication, with the overarching goal of creating informed and responsible citizens.
This Education Week video for the PBS News Hour covers the subject well.
Forms of media literacy date back to Plato and the ancient Greeks, the Data & Society report notes.
Modern ideas about the concept began to emerge in the late 1970s.
For the past decade or so, researchers documenting the inability of students (and adults) to judge the accuracy and reliability of online information started setting off alarm bells.
And then, during the 2016 US presidential campaign, the idea really got rolling thanks to a flurry of baseless conspiracy theories, fabricated news, and inflammatory social media content designed to exploit cultural and partisan divisions.
In response, more than a dozen states introduced or passed bills promoting media literacy in schools. A number of nonprofit, corporate, and media organizations have stepped up efforts to promote relevant curricula and programs.
Such efforts should be welcomed – but not viewed as a “panacea,” argue the Data & Society researchers.
Many existing efforts “focus on the individual’s interpretative responsibility,” they write.
But, they ask, is it really media literacy when officials deny the existence of climate change or when tech companies “purposely put out opaque systems for delivering news on social media platforms”?
And the researchers ask: “If malicious actors intentionally put disinformation online to distract and overwhelm, is it possible to protect themselves from media manipulation?”
Such concerns are not hypothetical.
As recently as this month, the special investigator investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election charged 13 foreign individuals and organizations with allegedly using social media to exploit divisions in American society, promote the election of Donald Trump and an “information war.” against the “lead United States of America.”
And that’s what Trump’s former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said in a recent interview with Bloomberg View.
“The real opposition is the media,” Bannon told writer Michael Lewis. “And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
Research and recommendations
Current media literacy efforts have shown some positive effects, according to the Data & Society report.
A meta-analysis carried out by academic researchers in 2012 found that media literacy efforts could help raise students’ critical awareness of messages, bias, and representation in the media they consume.
There have been small studies suggesting that media literacy efforts can change student behavior – for example, by making it less likely to use violent media for their own use.
And recently, two researchers found that training in media literacy is more important than prior political knowledge when it comes to being critical of partisan media content.
This research needs to be more robust, however, argues the Data & Society report.
Interdisciplinary collaboration is also critical to uncovering new insights in areas such as social psychology and political science, where researchers examine the role of gut instinct and political affiliation in analyzing and interpreting online information.
And those interested in media literacy need to develop a “coherent understanding of the media environment,” argues the report, which focuses not only on the ways individuals consume information, but also on the roles of institutions, technology companies and governments in developing new ways of creativity and distributing content.
“In the age of platforms it is necessary to rethink media literacy,” the report says.
“From an evidence-based point of view, there remains uncertainty as to whether media literacy can be effective in preparing citizens to withstand ‘fake news’ and disinformation.”
Photo: Fake news sites, like the three above, are growing in popularity, fueling concerns that schools must make media literacy a top priority – Education Week
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