Column: Media literacy classes are a critical need for children and teens

s media dominates more and more of our time, education can provide proper tools to analyze and interpret it.

Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

In the modern world, we are bombarded with media. Americans have more options than ever for their daily media consumption and it shows.

Adults now spend over 11 hours a day consuming various forms of media, according to Nielsen. That’s the lion’s share of the time we spend awake.

With all that time spent consuming media, for better or for worse, it is imperative we consume responsibly.

It is far too easy for Americans to be pulled in by malicious media.

One false story in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election ran with the headline, “[President] Obama signs a nationwide order banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools,” while another falsely claimed that Obama had cut funding for veterans to support Syrian refugees. These stories got 2.2 million and 1.7 million Facebook engagements respectively.

It is evident that fake news has taken a toll on our media, and perhaps our campaigns, as well. Many, rightfully, rush to blame the social media sites where these falsehoods proliferate. While websites must do a better job of regulating fake news, there lies a far more endemic problem in how we consume, and question, media.

Media literacy, most simply, refers to one’s ability to access, analyze, and evaluate media. Much like reading literacy, it is a skill that should be practiced and improved.

Researchers at Stanford found that high school and middle school students have a hard time judging the credibility of online news. The study found much of the education surrounding media literacy to be outdated by roughly 20 years.

It may seem cliché, but current students are our future voters and leaders.

Schools must focus more on media literacy, just in the same way they do on reading and writing literacy. Media literacy levels among children and teens display a critical vulnerability going forward. As the media dominates our public sphere, education on how to decipher information is an educational need that we are not meeting at the individual level.

Just as the D.A.R.E. program came out of the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, a new educational program is needed to address the epidemic of misinformation in media today. While the logistics are best left to the educators themselves, schools need to make room for media literacy in its curriculum.

Iranian researchers studied the effects of media literacy education on teens, coming to the conclusion that “the planned education programs are efficient to improve the adolescents’ knowledge and behavioral intention in dealing with mass media messages.”

Media literacy programs provide a demand-side solution to the fake news epidemic. While it is important for websites and other media outlets to crackdown on the production of such news, we can also limit the demand for it.

As D.A.R.E. is intended to reduce the demand for illicit drugs, a national media literacy campaign could substantially limit the demand for fake news, with education alone.

Still, students aren’t the only ones in need of proper media literacy training. Adults, by and large, are media illiterate as well. It’s easier to educate a captive classroom, but educating working adults is more difficult.

To, again, take lead from measures taken during the crack epidemic, public service announcements and public programming could help educate adults, as well as students.

Solutions to control access to misinformation may get more coverage, but controlling the demand for it can be more effective. With citizens educated in dissecting and decoding media intentions, we can limit the influence of false and misleading information.

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