WE THE PEOPLE
Filtering Out Fake News: It All Starts With Media Literacy
by Lauree Padgett
For those involved in mass media—the journalists on the front lines, the professors who teach about it, and the people involved in publishing it—the idea that fake news exists and is on the rise is old news. And yet, post-election 2016, it is becoming a hot topic across all outlets.
In the days after the presidential election, pollsters, pundits, and others were scrambling to figure out just how the predictions of a Hillary Clinton win were so far off (although, according to a Nov. 29 post by The New York Times, Clinton’s popular vote lead stands at more than 2 million votes, matching her predicted pre-election edge of 2 percentage points). While a plethora of events contributed to the Electoral College outcome that stands to put her opponent in the Oval Office at the end of January, stories about how fake news may have swayed voters to choose one candidate over another continue to proliferate.
Topping the headlines is the concession from media giants Google and Facebook that they will not display ads in websites with misleading or blatantly false content. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a front-page piece, “Fake Stories? That’s News to Young People,” on Nov. 28 in which staff writer Jonathan Lai spoke with several area college professors who teach media literacy. All are in consensus that the time is past due to make media literacy, and, with it, critical thought, a cornerstone of education.
William Badke, associate librarian at Trinity Western University, often laments in Online Searcher how technology-savvy yet information-illiterate his students are. In his January/February 2017 InfoLit Land column, he writes, “I don’t understand why higher education has been so slow to see how important information literacy is for our collective futures.”
‘Education Is Key’
This issue is at the heart of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE; namle.net), which sent out an email on Nov. 9 saying that it is “reflecting on the role the media played in the election and what we can do better to advocate for media literacy education.” The email called on media and education leaders to take active roles in advancing media literacy education; to look ahead, not behind; and to ask, “What’s next?” For NAMLE, which began in 1997 as the Partnership for Media Education, what’s next is media literacy education for everyone.
NAMLE’s executive director, Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, took the time to share with me how she thinks media literacy can best be championed. In her view, “every step of the [media] chain from content creator to social media platform to user must be held more accountable.” She supports a rating system of news outlets based on a number of factors (source material, credentials, bias, fact-checking, etc.) to make the lines of fact versus fiction less blurred. Another point she stresses is the need for people to understand the difference between researched journalism and opinion and commentary. Media outlets, she says, must be clear about these differences.
Contrary to Mark Zuckerberg’s assertion that Facebook is a tech company, not a media company, Lipkinfeels thatFacebook has always been a media company that on a daily basis is “making tons and tons of editorial decisions … about what its users see, hear, and read.” She contends that users have the right to hold the platform accountable for what is going into their feed, saying, “Give the user reason to trust your platform.” Ultimately, while Lipkin hopes social media will take more responsibility for the content being provided, as a media literacy educator, her focus is on teaching users. “Education,” she believes, “is key and is our most powerful weapon against falsehoods.”
Lipkin is emphatic that media literacy must be taught from the earliest grades. “Kids are interacting, consuming, [and] creating media within the first year of their life! How are we not seeing an absolute revolution in the education system to better prepare our youth for the world they are living in?” She says that the way to ensure this revolution and to give teachers and school systems support is to pass legislation in every state that requires media literacy inclusion in curricula. Also essential is mandating professional development so teachers can learn how to use the media literacy framework. As Lipkin so aptly puts it, “We need to embrace technology and media and empower students to use it. We need to stop trying to protect kids and start preparing them.”
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