Media literacy to fight fake news

It’s well known that fake news and disinformation spread quickly, especially online, with potentially disastrous results for democracy as people come to accept false or extremist ideas or choose to disengage with news media altogether. But what can be done to solve the problem? A new study from the Reboot Foundation calls the situation a “crisis in media literacy” and suggests that more must be done to teach skills in evaluating news sources. The report includes the following findings that are relevant to educators:

  • Simple interventions, such as reading articles on how to identify fake news, can be effective. The researchers found that reading an article or video that included a method for identifying disinformation was more effective than playing a game.
  • Student surveys show that more media literacy education is needed. More than a third of middle schools students on the 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress reported receiving little to no instruction on how to determine a source’s reliability, while just over a fifth reported often receiving such instruction. Fewer than half reported that they spend a lot of time on how to credit sources, while more than a fifth said they rarely or never spend time on this skill.

More media literacy instruction could be helpful, although the report explains that such efforts can backfire if they involve using outdated checklists or expose students to false information that ends up sticking in students’ minds even after they’ve forgotten that it’s false. And media literacy instruction in schools is not the only answer to the problem of fake news. Governments and technology companies also have a role to play in supporting media literacy and promoting more critical thinking.

The report includes links to a variety of resources on media literacy and fact-checking, a list of strategies for savvy news consumers, and Common Core State Standards related to media literacy.

Source: Bouygues, H.L. (2019, November). Fighting fake news: Lessons from the information wars. Paris, France: Reboot Foundation.

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