Surviving an Algorithm: Teaching Internet Literacy as Helping Students Recognize Misinformation | Milwaukee Independent

Lee has tried to bring that kind of education to her classroom, with lectures on the need to double-check online sources, diversify news feeds, and bring critical thinking to the web. She has also created an organization for other teachers to share resources.

“This technology is so new that no one has taught us how to use it,” Lee said. “People say, ‘There’s nothing we can do,’ and throw their hands up in the air. I don’t agree with this. I’d like to think that the republic can survive an algorithm.

Lee’s efforts are part of a growing movement of disinformation educators and researchers working to offset an explosion of online disinformation about everything from presidential politics to pandemics. So far, the United States is lagging behind many other democracies in taking up this fight, and the consequences of inaction are clear.

But for teachers who are already dealing with myriad demands in the classroom, embedding Internet literacy can be a challenge, especially given how politicized misinformation about vaccines, public health, voting, climate change and Russia’s war in Ukraine has become . The headline of a speech at a recent meeting of Lee’s group: “How to Talk About Conspiracy Theories Without Getting Fired.”

“It’s not teaching what to think, it’s teaching how to think,” said Julie Smith, a media literacy expert who teaches at Webster University in Webster Groves, Missouri. “It’s addictive to engage your brain. He’s asking, ‘Who created this? Why? Why do I see it now? How does that make me feel and why?’”

New laws and algorithm changes are often touted as the most promising ways to fight online disinformation, even as tech companies study their own solutions.

Teaching literacy on the Internet, however, may be the most effective method. New Jersey, Illinois, and Texas are among the states that have recently implemented new standards for teaching Internet literacy, a broad category that can include lessons on how the Internet and social media work, along with a focus on how to locate disinformation by cross-checking multiple sources and be wary of statements with missing context or highly emotional headlines.

Media literacy lessons are often included in history, government, or other social studies classes and typically offered at the high school level, though experts say it’s never too early or too late to help people become better users of media. Internet.

Finnish children are learning about the internet in kindergarten, part of a robust anti-misinformation program that aims to make the country’s residents more resistant to false claims online. Finland has a long history of fighting propaganda and disinformation spread by one of its neighbors, Russia, and expanded its current efforts after Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 unleashed another wave of disinformation.

“Media literacy was one of our priorities before the advent of the Internet,” Petri Honkonen, Finland’s minister of science and culture, said in a recent interview. “The point is critical thinking, and this is a skill that everyone needs more and more. We have to somehow protect people. We also need to protect democracy.”

Honkonen spoke to the Associated Press earlier this year during a trip to Washington that included meetings to discuss Finland’s work to fight online disinformation. A recent report on media literacy efforts in Western democracies placed Finland at the top. Canada finished in seventh place, while the United States came in at no. 18.

In Finland, lessons do not end with primary school. PSAs offer tips on how to avoid false claims online and check multiple sources. Other programs are aimed at older adults, who may be especially vulnerable to misinformation than younger users more comfortable on the Internet.

In the United States, attempts to teach literacy on the Internet have met with political opposition from people who equate it to thought control. Lee, the Seattle teacher, said worry keeps some teachers from even trying.

Several years ago, the University of Washington launched MisinfoDay, which brought together high school students and their teachers for a day-long event featuring speakers, exercises, and activities focused on media literacy. Seven hundred students from across the state attended one of three MisinfoDays this year.

Jevin West, the University of Washington professor who created the event, said he has heard of educators in other states and even in Australia who are interested in creating something similar.

“Maybe eventually, one day, nationwide here in the United States, we’ll have a day dedicated to the idea of ​​media literacy,” West said. “There are all kinds of things we can do in terms of regulations, in terms of technology, in terms of research, but nothing is going to be more important than this idea of ​​making us more resilient” to disinformation.

For teachers already grappling with other demands in the classroom, adding media literacy may seem like just another obligation. But it’s a skill just as important as computer engineering or software programming to the future economy, according to Erin McNeill, a Massachusetts mother who started Media Literacy Now, a national nonprofit that supports education in digital literacy.

“This is an innovation problem,” McNeill said. “Basic communication is part of our information economy and there will be huge implications for our economy if we don’t get it right.”

The driver education analogy comes up a lot when talking to media literacy experts. Automobiles first went into production in the early 20th century and soon became popular. But it was nearly three decades before the first driver training courses were offered.

What has changed? Governments have passed laws regulating vehicle safety and driver behavior. Automakers have added features like folding steering columns, seat belts, and airbags. And in the mid-1930s, safety advocates began pushing for mandatory driver education.

This combination of government, industry, and educators is seen as a model by many disinformation and media literacy researchers. Any effective solution to the challenges posed by online disinformation, they say, must necessarily include an educational component.

Media literacy in Canadian schools began decades ago and initially focused on television before being expanded throughout the digital age. It is now accepted as an essential part of preparing students, according to Matthew Johnson, director of education at MediaSmarts, an organization that conducts media literacy programs in Canada.

“We need speed limits, we need well-designed roads and good rules to ensure cars are safe. But we also teach people how to drive safely,” he said. “Whatever regulators do, whatever online platforms do, content always ends up in front of an audience and they need to have the tools to critically engage with them. “.

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