Media literacy courses needed now more than ever


Zoe Haworth

Politicians are supposed to unify, not divide

By Eric Bradach

While many panicked after news broke about the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history and desperately tried to reach loved ones to find out if they were safe, others seized the opportunity to unleash a fake-news barrage on social media. Some mistook hoaxes as fact, illustrating the need for media literacy courses.

Stephen Paddock opened fire during an Oct. 1 country music festival in Las Vegas. He killed 58 individuals and left hundreds physically injured as of press time. The next morning, many Americans read news site stories, such as that Paddock was an anti-Trump liberal who watched Rachel Maddow on MSNBC or that the FBI had linked him to ISIS. These stories dominated Google’s “top stories” and were shared throughout Facebook, but they were all false, according to an Oct. 2 New York Times article. 

As of press time, Paddock’s motives are still unknown and law enforcement’s investigation is ongoing.

While media literacy education has grown at the collegiate level, efforts to introduce it at an earlier age should be doubled, considering the easy access and volume of news shared through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Gone are the days of society’s reliance on local newspapers and NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates.

Media literacy is defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all media platforms and being able to adapt to its ever-changing environment, according to the National Association for Media Literacy Education. 

News literacy is a type of media literacy that teaches consumers to test and judge news veracity—a skill painfully needed on the internet. According to a Sept. 7 Pew Research Center study, younger people get their news predominantly online, which leaves them vulnerable to fake news sites. The nation’s educational system needs to acknowledge this.

Despite millennials’ tech savviness, they lack media literacy, according to a November 2016 Stanford University study. It analyzed more than 7,800 middle school, high school and college students across 12 states and concluded the majority were “duped by sponsored content and don’t always recognize political bias of social messages.” 

These tools are needed more than ever in light of recent revelations. Twitter representatives revealed to Congress that they found approximately 200 accounts in its system linked to the same Russian groups that bought $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook to plant political unrest and manipulate the nation’s 2016 presidential election, according to a Sept. 28 USA Today article. 

Unfortunately, instead of exploring different ways to adjust school curricula for the digital age, the U.S. Department of Education is focused on pushing the “school choice” narrative. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a $253 million grant Sept. 28 for charter schools, which are allowed to create their own curricula.

Needless to say, the current White House administration isn’t interested in expanding media and news literacy but rather in dismantling any federal presence in education policy, so it’s as rare as possible.

State and local officials, along with local advocacy groups, need to push for policies requiring media literacy courses in all levels of education. Start at middle school and continue through high school and college; it’s essential to keeping our democracy and preventing the union from splintering more than it already has.