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Teenagers and Misinformation: Some Starting Points for Teaching Media Literacy

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Teenagers and Misinformation: Some Starting Points for Teaching Media Literacy

In a sense, every week is Media Literacy Week on a site like ours, which helps people teach and learn with the news. But Oct. 24-28 is the official week dedicated to “amplifying the importance of media literacy education across the United States.” We are delighted to help.

Here are some ways teachers and librarians can teach with the extensive reporting The New York Times has done recently on misinformation and disinformation, whether your students are just beginning to understand the problem, or whether they are ready for deeper inquiry.


ImagePaul Blakesley has spent years teaching high school students in Colorado how to identify bias and misinformation.
Credit…Stephen Speranza for The New York Times
Paul Blakesley has spent years teaching high school students in Colorado how to identify bias and misinformation.

If you have time for just one activity, this one, based on the Times article “When Teens Find Misinformation, These Teachers Are Ready,” can provide a broad overview and help frame future work.

To start, share the statements in italics, all adapted from the article. You can do this as a “Four Corners” exercise in which you read each line aloud and ask students to position themselves in the room according to whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree. Or, you can hand out the PDF version and have students mark each statement “true” or “false” based on their own experiences, then discuss their reactions — and the experiences that informed those reactions — in partners or small groups.

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Here are the statements:

It’s easy to look at stuff on social media and take it as it is and not question it.

Older adults are more likely to struggle to recognize fake news than young people and are also the most likely to share it.

I have come across misleading and false narratives about the upcoming midterm elections online.

I have come across misleading and false narratives about the Covid-19 pandemic online.

If it’s gone viral, it’s probably true.

A .org domain makes a website trustworthy.

Media literacy is a necessity for everyone because of the way we live online today.

Some young adults share misinformation because they think it is true.

Some young adults share misinformation impulsively, because they are too busy to verify the information.

Most young adults talk to their parents and guardians about what makes media sources trustworthy.

TikTok is a primary information source for people my age.

Social media often reduces complex issues to one-sentence explanations.

A lot of young people are politically polarized at a very young age, and are angry at anyone who believes differently than they do.

Media literacy education should start in middle or even elementary school, when children are just beginning to venture online.

The way media literacy is taught needs improvement.

After your students have finished the exercise, discuss as a class what you discovered. On which statements was there broad agreement? On which was there disagreement? Why do they think that was? What personal experiences would they like to share that helped inform how they feel about the subject of “media literacy”? What, if anything, do they think schools, teachers and librarians should do to improve how they teach about these topics?

Finally, have them read “When Teens Find Misinformation, These Teachers Are Ready,” perhaps annotating to note their reactions as they go. You might then ask:

1. What jumped out at you as you read? Why?

2. This article describes many ideas, including curriculums, games and even legislative initiatives, that have been tried in recent years to support media literacy in public schools. Which of these, if any, were familiar to you? Which, if any, do you wish our school could adopt?

3. What problems with teaching media literacy did this article identify? Do you think our school has experienced any of these struggles? If so, what should we do about them? Why?

Then, to take the discussion further, you might continue to some of the exercises below.

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The same qualities that allow TikTok to fuel viral dance fads can also make inaccurate claims difficult to contain.
Credit…Anjum Naveed/Associated Press
The same qualities that allow TikTok to fuel viral dance fads can also make inaccurate claims difficult to contain.

  • What don’t adults understand about teenage life on the internet?

  • How, if at all, can schools help?

Via our Student Opinion column, we ask teenagers a new question every school day based on something in the news, and thousands of young people from around the world post comments in reaction every month.

On Oct. 24, we’ll be posting a forum that invites teenagers to answer questions like the two above, and encourages them to share experiences and opinions about what it’s like to navigate their digital lives in 2022. We’ll ask them about their media literacy education so far, and invite them to offer adults advice for how to make it more relevant, interesting and useful.

If your students have thoughts about any of these topics, we hope they’ll join the conversation, either by posting a comment, or by replying to comments from others. We will link the forum here when it publishes.

The video above is from the MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network, which publishes fact-checks for teenagers, by teenagers. According to the site, the network’s “fact-checks are unique in that they debunk misinformation and teach the audience media literacy skills so they can fact-check on their own.” Here is a collection of some recent fact-checks they have done, but you can see more on InstagramYouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

What skills do these students use? Among others, they have mastered lateral reading, a quick and effective method mentioned in the article students read above.

Mike Caulfield, a digital literacy expert, explained the rationale for that method in a 2021 interview with Charlie Warzel, a former Times opinion writer. In “Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole,” Mr. Caulfield argues that the way we’re taught from a young age to evaluate and think critically about information is fundamentally flawed and out of step with the chaos of the current internet:

“We’re taught that, in order to protect ourselves from bad information, we need to deeply engage with the stuff that washes up in front of us,” Mr. Caulfield told me recently. He suggested that the dominant mode of media literacy (if kids get taught any at all) is that “you’ll get imperfect information and then use reasoning to fix that somehow. But in reality, that strategy can completely backfire.”

In other words: Resist the lure of rabbit holes, in part, by reimagining media literacy for the internet hellscape we occupy.

It’s often counterproductive to engage directly with content from an unknown source, and people can be led astray by false information. Influenced by the research of Sam Wineburg, a professor at Stanford, and Sarah McGrew, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, Mr. Caulfield argued that the best way to learn about a source of information is to leave it and look elsewhere, a concept called lateral reading.

Invite your students to read the full piece. In it, they will learn how Mr. Caulfield has refined the process fact-checkers use into four simple principles:

1. Stop.

2. Investigate the source.

3. Find better coverage.

4. Trace claims, quotes and media to the original context.

Otherwise known as SIFT.

To go deeper, students might first watch a Crash Course video about lateral reading, then learn how to put it into practice via Stanford’s Civic Online Reasoning site. You might then invite them to practice it with information they come across in their social media feeds. What are the benefits of this approach? What are the limits? How well does it arm them to navigate information on their own, outside of school?

Finally, they might either revisit the Teen Fact-Checking Network to identify where they see those skills in action or, if they are ready, produce their own videos that fact-check the information they find in their feeds.

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<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/opinion/fighting-disinformation-education.html">Related Opinion Essay</a>
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Credit…Alberto Miranda

<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/opinion/fighting-disinformation-education.html">Related Opinion Essay</a>
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Does your school have a media literacy program? How effective is it? Invite your students to investigate and make recommendations, perhaps by starting with questions like these, and involving your school librarian or media specialist:

  • What is our school doing to teach media literacy?

  • Is it working? How can we measure that?

  • Does it teach students skills they will actually use to evaluate information they come across in their private lives as well as at school? Does it work for all the places and ways students access information, or does it need broadening or updating somehow?

Identifying the problem is, of course, a lot easier than solving it, but your students’ next step might be to learn about what has been effective elsewhere. Articles like the one we recommend in Step 1 include ideas for how schools and regions in the United States are tackling the problem, and this Opinion piece further details ideas from Finland and Estonia.

What additional ideas can your students find by researching? Which might work for their school? Why? If they were to write up a set of recommendations to share with school leaders, what would those recommendations include?

One of the winning videos from The Learning Network’s 2018 “News Diet Challenge” for teenagers.

The National Association for Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication.”

Here are ways to do that — via The Learning Network, The New York Times and some trusted outside sources.

All of our daily and weekly features — including multimedia activities like What’s Going On in This Picture?, our lesson plans and our many annual student contests — are focused on media literacy and help young people “access, analyze, evaluate, create and act.” But our Journalism and Media Literacy page collects resources that are especially focused on helping students understand how the news is created, and how it can be safely consumed.

For example, here are some things you can find:

The New York Times has an entire team of reporters covering misinformation and disinformation.

For instance, do your students know that the qualities that allow TikTok to fuel viral dance fads are also making it a “primary incubator of baseless and misleading information”? The articles below explore how:

The information below each organization’s name was taken from the sites themselves.

The Stanford History Education Group’s Civic Online Reasoning Curriculum

Students are confused about how to evaluate online information. We all are. The COR curriculum provides free lessons and assessments that help you teach students to evaluate online information that affects them, their communities and the world.

National Association for Media Literacy Education

The association aims to make media literacy highly valued and widely practiced as an essential life skill. It envisions a day when everyone, in our nation and around the world, possesses the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication. Media literacy education refers to the practices necessary to foster these skills.

The News Literacy Project

This nonpartisan education nonprofit is building a national movement to advance the practice of news literacy throughout American society, creating better-informed, more engaged and more empowered individuals — and ultimately a stronger democracy.

Media Literacy Now

This group leverages the passion and resources of the media literacy community to inform and drive policy change at local, state and national levels in the United States to ensure all K-12 students are taught media literacy so that they become confident and competent media consumers and creators.

The Media Education Foundation

The foundation produces and distributes documentary films and other educational resources to inspire critical thinking about the social, political and cultural impact of American mass media.

Common Sense Education

This organization provides a variety of media literacy resources including courses and curriculum, research on media literacy, a news and media literacy resource center as well as a list of other media literacy organizations worth exploring.

News Decoder

This site partners with schools around the world to teach media literacy and journalistic skills that enable students to create and consume media responsibly.

Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/20/learning/lesson-plans/teenagers-and-misinformation-some-starting-points-for-teaching-media-literacy.html

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