Why Digital Literacy Is Important and How to Navigate Teaching It
Why Digital Literacy Is Important in a World of Social Media
Undoubtedly, you've seen stories come across social media feeds that make you take pause. Whether it's users sharing a site-wide privacy breach, ways to protect yourself against unknown attacks, or news stories that seem questionable, there's no denying that our society has a bad habit of liking and sharing information without checking its credibility first. We've heard about the rise of "fake news", but if adults are falling victim to false news stories, how do we teach our children to avoid these same mistakes?
This is why digital literacy is important. Children are mass consumers of media, from YouTube, to video game streaming channels, to social media. They are inundated from all sides with loads of information on a daily basis. As educators, it is key that we show children how to be smart, critical consumers of media. Here, we'll examine ways that educators can teach digital literacy.
Evaluating Credibility of News Sources Using E.S.C.A.P.E.
In order to be critical consumers of media, students need to know how to navigate through a story or website to determine its credibility. Washington DC's Newseum is a terrific resource for promoting responsible free speech while defending our First Amendment rights. Even if your students can't visit the Newseum in person, they have provided several workshops and lesson plans that educators can use in their classroom to teach responsible digital literacy. The Newseum uses the acronym E.S.C.A.P.E. to provide students a method for evaluating the credibility of news sources:
Can you verify the names, places, or events that are mentioned in the article?
Who has touched this story, from the author, to the editor, to the publisher? Can you trust the reliability of the source?
Look at the story around the larger context of events happening at that time. Were there outside sources or events affecting this story?
Do the images, language choices, or presentation techniques appeal to a specific audience?
What was the purpose of this article? Was it meant to raise money, incite fear, or promote a publisher's agenda?
Does the article have any noticeable grammar, style, or structure issues? Is the tone biased, inflammatory, or overly sympathetic?
If the article in question passes the E.S.C.A.P.E. test, then it is probably credible. This strategy is also useful for students who are completing in-class research and need to determine the reliability of a source.
What Sources are The Most Neutral?
Looking at the E.S.C.A.P.E. acronym, students may have questions about the "S"-- how do they know whether or not a source is reliable? A helpful tool to utilize is the media bias chart, which shows the political affiliations or biases of the parent media company. This is a great visual tool to help students identify which sources tend to have more liberal or conservative leanings, as well as which sources' views are so extreme that their news stories should not be given a viral voice.
Another excellent resources is AllSides, which provides media coverage about a specific topic from several different points of view. You can look at a current news story from the left, right, or center perspectives. This would be an excellent chance to dive into the different authors' word choices, and how the headlines, phrasing, spin, and takeaways vary from one publication to the next.
How to Avoid Blind Information Sharing
Social media stories are written and published with the hopes of getting as many "likes" and "shares" as possible. This can include inflammatory headlines, worry-inducing call-to-actions, and heart-wrenching stories. The reason why people share stories such as these is out of a feeling of moral obligation-- my friends and family are on this social media platform and I need to make them aware of this potentially dangerous or unjust item! However, this blind form of information sharing comes at a price, since many of the stories are either inaccurate or simply not true.
Implore your students to use a couple of different resources before they choose to like or share a story. Snopes.com allows students to type in a keyword, or search through current viral trends to confirm whether or not the information is valid. Snopes covers a wide range of topic from fake photos (dubbed "fauxtography" by the site), to celebrity news, to national and world events. Politifact, which focuses on hard news stories, is a great tool for students to utilize when looking at facts or statistics that are given by elected officials.
How Do Students Address News With Friends and Family?
The difficult part comes once students find out that the passionate plea grandma made on social media about changing your password is based on a viral hoax. Since social media connects us with friends and family members, these can be difficult waters to tread. Let students know that it's ok to inform the friend or family member that their information is inaccurate, but perhaps it is best to do so through a private message. Include the fact-checking site used and encourage the person to do their own due diligence before they like and share a post.
By giving students the resources they need to make smart, critical decisions about the media they consume and share, we are promoting digital literacy. The goal is to create a new generation of consumers who are much more thorough and thoughtful in their online footprint, and only share news stories that are valid and reliable. A free press, upheld by an educated and conscientious public, is key to maintaining a thriving democracy.
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