Let's Get Literate

Part One Of Our Media Literacy Series

As part of a series on America In Context, we are diving into America’s media literacy problem in a new series. As people, we are more divided than ever, a truth that plays out on our educational, entertainment and informational screens. The problem has been exacerbated by a complicated press landscape and the fact that people are not taught how to consume media. But let’s be real: This isn’t just a media literacy problem. The stiffer truth? Most of us in the industry have no clue what’s going on either. 

let’s get literate

Life and death. In America’s hyper-partisan political landscape, it’s easy to fall into echo chambers … and with potentially deadly consequences. A Northeastern University study found that the overwhelming majority of fake news about COVID-19, for example, was shared by Republicans, who tended to skew older. This was consequential given that the age group most susceptible to severe cases were those over age 65. Some American distrust of the media may be due to its citizens’ inability to properly understand the role of news. A Stanford study of students from middle school through college reflected that their ability to reason on the internet could be “summed up in one word: bleak.” Their final analysis? “We worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish.”

Gamifying Consumption. Misinformation drove a number of voters to false conclusions during the 2016 election, spurred on by Russian bots and influencers intent on fostering discord. This led ultimately to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters in January with deadly consequences: Police were forced to shoot and kill Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran. One possible solution? News literacy video games aimed at teaching Americans how to parse fact from fiction. The games serve as early intervention tools, protecting the vulnerable from being radicalized by showing them what misinformation is and why it’s dangerous. Read more

Mandatory Education. A number of states have introduced media literacy bills in recent months. In Illinois, state legislators are considering a bill requiring public schools to teach a media literacy module starting this upcoming school year. In Colorado, lawmakers would use the state Department of Education to provide schools with resources, which individual school districts could choose to use at their own discretion. At least 29 states already have similar laws or are currently considering them, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Media Literacy Now. That’s 15 more states than last year.

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