Fake news hurts our young

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Es­ther J. Cepeda Colum­nist Es­ther Cepeda is syndicated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

Fake news is on peo­ple’s radar like never be­fore, due to spec­u­la­tion about what role it may have played in the past elec­tion. And not a mo­ment too soon; the lack of me­dia lit­er­acy in this coun­try is be­com­ing an epi­demic — one that, like so many other pub­lic health threats, is particularly harm­ful to chil­dren.

Re­cently, re­searchers at Stan­ford Univer­sity’s His­tory Ed­u­ca­tion Group be­gan to mea­sure what they call “civic on­line rea­son­ing,” which they de­fine as the abil­ity to judge the cred­i­bil­ity of in­for­ma­tion viewed while on electronic de­vices.

The group ad­min­is­tered 56 tasks de­signed to eval­u­ate un­der­stand­ing of the re­li­a­bil­ity of news sources to mid­dle school, high school and col­lege stu­dents — in both well-re­sourced and un­der­re­sourced schools — across 12 states.

What the re­searchers found comes as no sur­prise to any­one who spends time with young adults who have had dig­i­tal de­vices in their hands since tod­dler­hood:

“Over­all, young peo­ple’s abil­ity to reason about the in­for­ma­tion on the in­ter­net can be summed up in one word: bleak,” reads the study’s ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary. “We would hope that mid­dle school stu­dents could dis­tin­guish an ad from a news story. By high school, we would hope that stu­dents read­ing about gun laws would no­tice that a chart came from a gun own­ers’ po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee. And, in 2016, we would hope col­lege stu­dents, who spend hours each day on­line, would look be­yond a .org URL and ask who’s be­hind a site that pre­sents only one side of a con­tentious is­sue. But in every case and at every level, we were taken aback by stu­dents’ lack of prepa­ra­tion.”

The au­thors con­clude our abil­ity to har­ness the power of the free flow of in­for­ma­tion is threat­ened by me­dia il­lit­er­acy and “will de­pend on our aware­ness of this prob­lem and our ed­u­ca­tional re­sponse to it. At present, we worry that democ­racy is threat­ened by the ease at which dis­in­for­ma­tion about civic is­sues is al­lowed to spread and flour­ish.”

Un­for­tu­nately, the skill of me­dia lit­er­acy is a nar­row one that is pos­sessed mostly by peo­ple in the me­dia. We can­not expect par­ents to teach their chil­dren skills like un­der­stand­ing that “na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing” and “spon­sored content” on a le­git­i­mate news site are not in­de­pen­dently re­ported news with­out a hidden agenda if the par­ents them­selves don’t un­der­stand that there is a dis­tinc­tion.

And ex­pect­ing the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem to craft a re­sponse to this ma­jor blind spot in cur­rent ed­u­ca­tion cur­ric­ula for to­mor­row’s vot­ers and cit­i­zens is prac­ti­cally out of the ques­tion.

A 2015 study on the ne­ces­sity of me­dia lit­er­acy for teach­ers found that “Me­dia lit­er­acy re­mains per­haps the most im­por­tant ad­di­tion to cur­rent teacher ed­u­ca­tion, even if it must be ‘slipped in’ with the rest of the cur­ricu­lum [be­cause] re­quir­ing an en­tire course in me­dia lit­er­acy in un­der­grad­u­ate teacher ed­u­ca­tion may not be fea­si­ble at many col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties with teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­grams.”

As a teacher, I have seen count­less stu­dents who could not spot the dif­fer­ences be­tween re­li­able sources and plain pro­pa­ganda. But, worse, I’ve seen nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of teach­ing ma­te­ri­als that have in­cluded out­dated (and there­fore in­cor­rect) news ar­ti­cles, hand­outs pro­duced by for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions look­ing for fu­ture cus­tomers, and un­told num­bers of videos from sources that were clearly pro­duced by or­ga­ni­za­tions with strong po­lit­i­cal agen­das.

Th­ese things jump out at trained jour­nal­ists, but it’s sort of un­fair to bash teach­ers for pre­sent­ing such ma­te­ri­als to their stu­dents as trust­wor­thy and fac­tual when teach­ers can’t spot the in­con­sis­ten­cies and were never taught how to do so.

“When we be­gan our work we had lit­tle sense of the depth of the prob­lem. We even found our­selves re­ject­ing ideas for tasks be­cause we thought they would be too easy. Our first round of pi­lot­ing shocked us into re­al­ity,” the Stan­ford His­tory Ed­u­ca­tion Group study de­clares. “Many assume that be­cause young peo­ple are flu­ent in so­cial me­dia they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the op­po­site.”

They be­lieve that aware­ness is the first step in demon­strat­ing the link be­tween dig­i­tal lit­er­acy and cit­i­zen­ship in or­der to “mo­bi­lize ed­u­ca­tors, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and oth­ers to ad­dress this threat to democ­racy.”

But pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions move glacially while those who use tech­nol­ogy to push their agen­das evolve quickly to dis­guise their bias by mak­ing it look like im­par­tial content.

Real­is­ti­cally, to­day’s cit­i­zens are on their own in learn­ing how to spot fake news. But there is a way to start: Study the URL to see if you rec­og­nize it, or if it has other let­ters after the dot-com. Then take a quick look at some of the head­lines. This can tell you a lot.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.