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Fake News and Citizen Journalism: Media Literacy to the Rescue!

Fake News and Citizen Journalism: Media Literacy to the Rescue!

In an age when anyone can publish content online and call it news and so much bias exists in the media no matter which way you lean, it can be difficult for adults to decipher what is fact and what is fiction. Now try asking a student to figure it out! But being able to take a piece of news and determine 1) if it is from a reliable source, 2) if the information is accurate or just opinion and 3) what hidden messages (if any) are included are essential skills for today's media-saturated individuals. So how do we teach our students to recognize what they're looking at and what those messages mean? It's time to talk media literacy!

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages contained within. We all know how fast and through just how many avenues (TV, radio, internet, magazines, newspapers, social media) information comes at us every single day. It can be overwhelming to try to keep up with it all and to try to verify the accuracy. And to make it even more difficult, now anyone with a device and internet connectivity can create and publish content. This makes it even more important for educators to help students learn the skill of critical thinking when it comes to consuming news and published material.

What are essential skills for media literacy?  

  1. Finding the source: Who created the piece? An individual? An organization? Does it originate from, for example, an organization's official social media account or an individual's personal one? Often, that can alert you to whether it is a trusted source or not. It's also a good idea to collect similar content from multiple sources and compare the message/voices. What's different? What's the same?

    That brings us to the next skill essential to understand and master: bias.
  2. Understanding bias: Students need to understand that media outlets and those creating content will inherently publish with bias. But students also need to understand that they as individuals will have their own personal biases that are present when they interpret content they read.

    Once they understand the bias that exists on both ends, there are some questions they'll need to ask: Why did the person or organization create it? To inform you of an event that occurred? To entice you to buy something? To change your mind or behavior about something? Who is the intended audience? What details were included or left out? What does that matter for the message and the author's intent?
  3. Creating media responsibly: No longer are students (or anyone for that matter) passive recipients of content. We can all create and publish, which is incredibly empowering and exciting. But we need to be thoughtful about what we put out for public consumption and how it affects others. As educators, we want to encourage students to create their own media because in doing so, they are learning all sorts of tools and skills that can make them competitive on a global scale. But in teaching them to be media literate, they will also use those skills to be more thoughtful and empathetic about how their own messages affect others.

What resources are available to help me in the classroom?

Online resources abound to help you discuss media literacy with your students, no matter what age. Here are just a few:

  • Common Sense Media: Has a breakdown of what media literacy is and resources for each age group (linked at the top of the page under "Explore Questions by Age").
  • Has created an online game you can play with your students that puts them in the role of the people who create "fake news." By playing the game, they gain insight into the various tactics and methods used by ‘real’ fake news-mongers to spread their messages. The site even has an info sheet for educators with the rules of the game and additional content you can use with your classes.
  • NewseumED: Has a ton of FREE lesson plans to use when discussing photography, disaster news, election ads, editorial cartoons, propaganda and more.
  • ASCD: Has both free and ASCD members-only resources available for you to access.
  • Edutopia: Always a go-to for useful information, Edutopia has a variety of articles that link to games and apps and other activities to help your students learn the importance of media literacy.

What other resources do you incorporate into your media literacy toolkit? Please share!

Sarah Julian

Director, Communications

Sarah serves as the Director of Communications for the OPSRC. In this role, she provides support, consultation and training on a variety of critical tools and PR functions, including communication plans, social media policies, crisis communications, media relations and website content.

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