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The value of media literacy education
June 17, 2019

a phone launching twitter
We grab our phones and tablets and brace ourselves for the hoaxes sure to be lurking behind every tap or click.

The following blog post was adapted from ”If Every Day Were April Fool’s Day,” a column by members of the Newseum Education staff that recently appeared in the Freedom Forum Institute’s newsletter, “First Five.”

By NewseumED

It’s no secret that news consumers have developed some bad habits. We gravitate to platforms that only share news we want to hear, share stories after only reading their headlines and get sucked into content that outrages or entertains us.

The blame isn’t entirely consumers’, though. News producers may feed into the appetite for biased content and aggregators use mysterious algorithms that boost questionable content. But given all these imperfections in the media landscape, how do we encourage good daily habits? How do we restore trust in journalism working daily on our behalf?

The answer is media literacy education.

Media literacy education is not new, but the recent intensified interest in building up these essential skills has cast light on some holes in traditional approaches. While media literacy teaches students how to analyze, evaluate and even make their own content, it often fails to instill an understanding of why these skills are so important and why they’re necessary in the first place — every day. Without laying this foundation — the reasons to beware and the reasons to care — it can be too easy for media literacy training to breed hardened cynicism. This type of disillusionment can widen societal divisions and amplify the very echo chamber effect that media literacy should combat.

Because of the Newseum’s First Amendment mission, we’ve always approached media literacy differently. We marry the analytical aspects — such as separating fact from fiction and identifying bias — with active free expression and productive social engagement. For example, consider the need to confront and counter confirmation bias, the tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirms one’s own beliefs.

Where traditional media literacy might focus on how to find diverse information sources and assess competing claims, we broaden the approach to also look at how confirmation bias can affect the ways we express ideas and engage with pressing issues as individuals and as a society.

How do we get these vital tools and habits? How do we hone the skills all citizens need to navigate the information universe? In our work, we partner with other educators who have the skills, existing relationships and community trust, helping us deliver content that engages and resonates with everyone from students to seniors.

But educators can’t do it alone. We need the help of news producers, aggregators, technologists and everyone involved in the production and distribution of news and information. In particular, journalists can lead the charge for accurate, fair, clear reporting on issues that are important to consumers. We all can celebrate the successes of journalists and the press, working daily on behalf of consumers and consistently providing reliable places for trustworthy news in all communities.

Technologists can take a more proactive approach to curtailing the spread of disinformation by developing algorithms and mechanisms that prevent this type of content from seeing the light of day.

We can all support each other as we develop the stamina to maintain a healthy skepticism throughout the entire year.

Here are some additional NewseumED resources worth investigating (login required on the website to access these resources; sign up for free on the site):

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.

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