With so much misinformation, disinformation, fake news and outright untruths floating around these days in cyberspace, it’s easier than ever to get misled.
And because information jacklegs are trying to jack you up with bad information, something needs to be done about it. Otherwise, our democracy will suffer.
In the past, the news media have been the conduit for providing vetted, objective news and information to Americans so they can make decisions in our democracy. The newsgathering and reporting process disseminates information to help people pick candidates, decide on referenda and hold their elected and appointed officials accountable. This is a fundamental responsibility of real news organizations not obsessed with clickbait.
But when the internet came along, all of the sudden individuals had the power to espouse information — and opinions — to the world. In the years since Al Gore invented it (that’s sarcasm, by the way), countless platforms have arrived that allow people to build new electronic communities — websites, Facebook, X/Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, just to name a few that are popular now.
With these communities, there are people who use it for good, legitimate reasons to spread information and others (such as Russians and non-democratic authoritarians) who want to interfere with democracy and elections by spreading lies to undercut faith in truth and the American system of checks and balances.
So these days from the comfort of a laptop or a phone in a mall, anyone is a publisher who can spread anything you want. And now, there’s so much information to sift through that it’s almost impossible to figure out what is real and what is Memorex.
That’s why voters and consumers of news should take a basic media literacy course. Doing so will help them avoid being punked by bad actors on the internet. And it will provide them with resources so they can discern the truth.
The nonprofit Poynter Institute, a much-esteemed media organization that trains journalists and citizens, offers a free, one-hour short course on fact-checking called MediaWise. In it, “you’ll learn the basics of misinformation, how to quickly fact-check suspicious posts, and how to identify even the sneakiest of online ads.”
The group emphasizes this: “We will not be telling you how to feel about topics or issues. Instead, we will teach you how to identify digital misinformation and disinformation. Our goal is to help you make decisions that impact your life and your health, based on reliable, trustworthy information.”
Here’s another option South Carolina lawmakers should consider — provide a structure through high schools to teach information newbies about information discernment. In other words, provide media literacy training to young minds whose after-school hours are filled with scrolling through the internet so they better understand what’s true and not.
There’s precedent for this. Starting with this year’s freshmen, high school students are required to complete a one-half credit personal finance class to develop financial literacy skills. Why not a similar class on media literacy to help them figure out what’s news and what’s not?
State Treasurer Curtis Loftis and S.C. Economics CEO Jim Morris wrote in Statehouse Report in 2020 about how the lack of financial literacy is detrimental. “Without important knowledge about real-world topics such as loans, credit, taxes, and retirement, Americans can experience anxiety about money and often end up with growing debt that is difficult to overcome.”
The same can be said for an American population that has a hard time figuring out what is and isn’t accurate and truthful. Without skills to combat misinformation and disinformation, our democracy succumbs to things like the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington. Let’s give our youngest citizens the tools they need to become good citizens in an information age that can be wacky.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of the Charleston City Paper and Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to: email@example.com.
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