Just because your kid—or grandkid—knows more about technology than you’ll ever grasp, doesn’t mean that these youngsters are all that savvy when it comes to professional manipulators. And having super-fast thumbs for texting doesn’t necessarily translate into super-smarts.
Technology continues to have a growing impact on the media landscape. Yet it’s still very much like the Wild West: uncontrolled and easily abused by today’s version of the slick gunslinger, the disseminator of fake news.
“The amount of fake news going around on social media during the presidential campaign forced a lot of people to take notice of the problem,” says State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa. “Stanford University came out with an academic study that found a staggering percentage of students from middle school through college couldn’t identify legitimate reporting from advertisements or content from interest groups. Seeing concrete academic research on the scope of the problem really underscored the need to act.”
Dodd’s form of action is SB 135, legislation meant to create and make available a media literacy curriculum for grades K–12. The bill, which already passed the Senate, “aims to combat fake news and ensure students have the tools to succeed in the digital age,” Dodd said. The bill “will also advance media-literacy training opportunities for teachers in California.” That means the educators will also be educated.
“In the history of the world, media and information has never been more readily available than it is today,” Dodd says. “However, the amount of fake news and misinformation has also been climbing. Debating policy goals or the best ways to achieve them is a bedrock of our democracy, but those discussions need to be grounded in reality.”
Dodd says educators support the bill.
“Much web literacy we’ve seen either gets students to look at web pages and think about them, or teaches them to publish and produce things on the web,” says Nathan Libecap, teacher-librarian at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma. “While both these activities are useful, neither addresses real problems students confront evaluating the information that streams to them daily. They need concrete strategies and tactics for tracing claims to sources and for analyzing the nature and reliability of those sources.”
Libecap said the bill addresses key issues in media education.
“The cost is minimal when we think about helping students—our future voters, consumers, civic and business leaders—learn skills that they can use to not only avoid online scams,” he says, “but to determine the legitimacy and accuracy of the information that they will use when making life choices, whether they are related to their health, economics or politics. We are doing our students a disservice if they graduate from high school and don’t know, understand or have skills to address things like astroturfing, chatbots, echo chambers, phishing scams, click-bait, etc.”
Noting that some schools have taken their own steps in media literacy, Dodd says, “we need all students across the state to get a comprehensive education. My bill leaves the development of the curriculum to education professionals and won’t tell people what to think. It will simply help them evaluate and weigh information and media they consume.”
Libecap adds, “Digital and media literacy—and more specifically web literacy—is something that is not just essential, but something that students already show a knack for through their use of social media. Students want to be informed and want to understand the world around them and, like everyone else, they don’t want to appear naive or ignorant, especially around their peers. Currently, web literacy follows outdated best practices. SB 135 would be the catalyst to update web literacy practices in California.”
The bill awaits final approval from the Assembly Education Committee this summer and the governor’s signature.