Lawmakers in several states are mounting an attack on “fake news.”
That’s music to our ears.
And no, it’s not a politically motivated drive. It’s aimed at promoting critical thinking and teaching young people how to separate fact from fiction.
That’s a line that, unfortunately has become blurred in recent years with the rise of social media and false information that is spread rapidly — or “gone viral” — as social media users tweet and retweet stories and views that are not based in fact.
An Associated Press report last weekend chronicled how “lawmakers in several states have introduced or passed bills calling on public school systems to do more to teach media literacy skills they say are critical to democracy.”
“The bipartisan effort has received little attention despite successful legislation in Washington state, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Mexico. Arizona, New York and Hawaii are also expected to consider such legislation this year.
“I don’t think it’s a partisan issue to appreciate the importance of good information and the teaching of tools for navigating the information environment,” the AP story quoted Hans Zieger, a Republican state senator in Washington who helped craft a bill in his state last year. “There is such a thing as an objective source versus other kinds of sources, and that’s an appropriate thing for schools to be teaching.”
We agree. These are skills students — and adults — need to have as they face an avalanche of often unsourced reports on social media. The AP report said efforts to increase social media literacy started getting traction after the 2016 presidential election “which highlighted how even adults can be fooled by false and misleading content peddled by agenda-driven domestic and foreign sources.”
The lure of “fake news” is that it often feeds into someone’s predisposed beliefs and they are willing to accept it at face value — and send it along to others without checking on its veracity. When it’s sent to friends and online acquaintances they, too, tend to accept it as true because it came from someone they know.
Critical thinking, double-checking “facts” with other sources and checking the credibility of the reporting source itself can defeat the spread of “fake news” and build knowledge that is based on truth.
Those are all good lessons for students and social media users to apply to what they read or see online and via other social media. Classes in developing those skills would well serve students.
Doubt is a good critical thinking skill. Young journalists are often taught that when an editor tells them: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”