The term “media literacy” isn’t necessarily new, but it does seem to be in the midst of a popular resurgence. Common Sense Media defines media literacy as “the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending,” which doesn’t necessarily cover all of the interpretations and connotations, but communicates the basic idea. And in our current age of digital operation and rampant misinformation, one can make a strong logical argument that media literacy has never been more important. In fact, for the reasons described here, we’d argue that it should now be considered essential education for children and young adults of all ages.
Importance In Research
In a previous Nexus Blog on why digital skills are critical in today’s world, Ellie Narewska actually touched on media literacy, and specifically the ideas of unreliable sources and “fake news” being encountered by students. Fortunately, as discussed at that time, kids of a certain age can actually take a liking to the process of learning how to spot fake sources and inaccurate stories; there’s a general familiarity with digital environments kids grow up with today that almost makes this a natural process for them to want to go through. But it’s also still a very important one, not only for interaction with the world at large, but in education.
Today, students of all ages use the internet for research, whether for specific papers, their own projects, or even personal ventures beyond schoolwork. This alone makes it essential for them to learn media literacy, so that they’re able to discern useful and accurate sources from the rest of them. Not only will it enhance the quality of any given product (and by extension, academic performance), but it will also quite literally improve the quality of education.
The Need To Stay Social
It’s not uncommon anymore to hear of people deleting their social media accounts specifically to get away from fake news and the spread of disinformation. However, while there may be a certain morality to this decision depending on your perspective, students – particularly at the college and graduate level – can’t afford the luxury.
This is because social media remains a very active arena for job seeking, networking, and recruitment. In an article instructing employers on how to post jobs to Facebook, CoMeet pointed out the benefits of doing so, noting that billions of people visit the platform each day, making a job post more visible, to more people, than it would be on virtually any job posting site. This is impossible rationale to argue with, and makes clear that even if individual users might tire of Facebook or social media in general due to fatigue driven by misinformation, employers and companies are unlikely to stop using the same platforms.
That’s not to say that staying active on Facebook is a student’s only shot at finding a good job. But it’s a valuable tool within the process, and as long as employers are posting jobs and interacting with candidates through social media, there’s a clear reason for students to stay on board. And for those who opt to do so, a greater focus on media literacy can serve as an alternative way to keep the experience from resulting in inaccurate impressions.
The Politics Of It All
Discussions of fake news in the political arena tend to become polarizing very quickly, and perhaps inevitably. However, without getting into specific political issues, few would argue with the idea that students should also be taught how to gauge media sources so that they can stay better informed as they enter the “real world,” so to speak.
The Chicago Maroon once quoted an ex-Obama official speaking at a student-moderated event as saying, “We have to teach children what legitimate news sources are and what they are not,” and this in a vacuum is a statement people can appreciate on any part of the political spectrum. Naturally, as a member of the Obama administration, this official has a certain viewpoint. But he and his colleagues on the popular left-wing podcast Pod Save America have made an interesting point of preaching media literacy on a fairly regular basis. While they have their partisan perspectives, this one is about refocusing education to teach children not why to take one side or the other, but how to stay informed.
Building on this idea, the final reason we’d consider media literacy to be essential education for modern students is that it prepares them for some of the real-world challenges they’ll face, beyond getting good grades or finding a job. Students should be prepared to engage in honest, thoughtful discourse about the world around them, and they’ll be best equipped to do so if they’re specifically taught how to assess modern media.