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How to Tackle Fake News

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How to Tackle Fake News

Source:Chien-Ying Chiu

How can we equip children with critical thinking and media literacy as fake news and disinformation proliferate all over the world?

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How to Tackle Fake News

By Jing-Yu Lee
web only

The findings of a UK survey on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools, conducted by the National Literacy Trust, were published in June. They suggest that only 2% of schoolchildren in the UK are well-equipped to recognize fake news; 60.9% of teachers in primary and secondary schools are concerned about the well-being of their students as anxiety is on the rise due to fake news.

Gianfranco Polizzi, a media literacy expert who is a PhD researcher from the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics (LSE), reflected on the findings of the survey, addressing several questions such as 'Except for the 2% of schoolchildren who can recognize fake news, what is the percentage of teachers who are able to identify misinformation?' and 'Besides revising the current national curriculum in the UK, isn’t it also a matter of pedagogy and teaching methods?'

His perspectives have been widely discussed and quoted all over the world.

Polizzi was invited by the CommonWealth Education Foundation in Taiwan to give a speech on 'Why media literacy is important'. Before the speech, he stressed that media literacy is crucial because it intersects with civic literacy in democratic societies.

‘It is important to tackle fake news as democracy relies on a well-informed citizenry that is able to delegate power to representatives,' Polizzi said, suggesting that media literacy can be learned and integrated in the curriculum in an interdisciplinary fashion.

He said that in the digital age, we should neither be afraid of using digital technology nor forbid children from using it; in contrast, providing children with guidance when receiving, engaging with and checking information is what we really need to do.  (Read: Rise of the Haters, Preventing Fake News)

At the end of the interview, Polizzi responded to Taiwanese parents’ and teachers' concerns about the upcoming referendum, and he gave advice to those who are 18 years old and are going to vote for the first time. (Editor's note: The interview was conducted before the referendum.)

What follows is the interview between CommonWealth Education Media and Gianfranco Polizzi, edited in terms of length: 

Q: What is media literacy? Why is it so important?

A: Media literacy requires people to be aware of the broader media ecosystem, and it helps citizens to be well-informed when it comes to evaluating content in relation to bias and trustworthiness.

When it comes to understanding the digital environment, it helps citizens to engage in democracy actively in ways that maximize opportunities related to using the internet and at the same time minimize constraints.

Media literacy is important, especially in relation to fake news and the problem of misinformation. It is particularly important for democracy. In the context of Brexit in the UK or the election of Donald Trump in the US, there are questions as to whether the public was well-informed.

I don’t think we have the evidence we need to assert whether the outcomes of the elections were due to citizens not being well-informed.

We live in a media-saturated world. And especially in democracies in the West, information is highly mediated by the internet. Because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I think many people have come to realize how the digital environment works.

Critical thinking about whether information is reliable is definitely a crucial dimension of media literacy. In addition, the fact that information is highly mediated by the internet means a layer of critical thinking is required that is not only about information and content but also about the role of the internet in society and the broader digital environment.

In the digital age, media literacy requires a layer of critical reflexivity and knowledge about the internet that citizens should have.

With respect to how the internet works in terms of socio-economic issues related to how big corporations like Google and Facebook make their money and how they handle users’ data, ultimately, critical digital literacy requires that people understand the potential and limitations of the internet broadly for society. When it comes to democracy, citizens need to understand in what ways the internet can facilitate democracy and in what ways it places constraints on it.

Q: How can parents and teachers equip children with media literacy?

A: Many people have come to realize that media literacy is indeed very important. This is not only important for children, but also for adults. Compared to children, it is harder to teach media literacy to adults because they are not readily accessible in schools.

The point is that we need to work very hard to ensure that both children and adults learn media literacy. Relatedly, we need to figure out how to reach adults, which is a challenge that we need to overcome.

School is not the only place where children can learn media literacy. The household also plays an important role as it is where children can share with their parents what they learn in school and what they do with the media.

Through dialogue, parents and children can exchange their views about the media and learn from each other.

In terms of school education, I think media literacy should be cross-curricular because multiple subjects have something to offer.

Children need to be able to read and understand different topics but they also have to learn about the media and how to use digital devices. Not only textual content in the media can be biased, but also audiovisual content may be subject to issues of trustworthiness. (Read: Reading and Writing – An Antiquated Way of Thinking?)

If children know how to use digital devices and know that there are tools that can be used to manipulate information, then arguably they can spot fake news and tackle misinformation more successfully. But in order to do so, they need to engage with information critically in the first place.

Gianfranco Polizzi, PhD researcher from the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics (LSE), at the 2018 International Reading Education Forum organized by CommonWealth Education Foundation. (Source: Shih Chang)

Q: The upcoming referendum is open to citizens who are aged 18 and above for the first time in Taiwan. Do you have any suggestions for first-time voters?

A: This is an important issue. I totally understand and I think it is legitimate that parents and adults are concerned about this. I think that having the right to vote is a big responsibility.

Because the outcome of voting determines the future of countries not only nationally but also internationally.

For the young generation voting in the upcoming referendum, my advice is twofold: have an open-minded attitude and check facts.

As a young citizen, you should question your own beliefs against different opinions, and you have to be as critical as you can. You may have your own preferences when approaching information and the news, but you have to be as open-minded as possible.

Meanwhile, you should also combine your open-minded attitude with respect for evidence.

Because of the fake news phenomenon, people might trust less what they hear or see. People might feel that they need to question everything now. I think it is important to be critical, but we also need to appreciate evidence.

Questioning information does not mean rejecting facts. It is important that citizens engage in a constructive dialogue instead of rejecting facts.

I also think that media literacy is not the ultimate solution, as tackling fake news is not only the responsibility of teachers, parents and children. We also need governments, media companies and social media platforms to take responsibility to ensure that we live in a well-functioning democratic society where misinformation does not thrive in the first place. Take the Cambridge Analytica scandal, for example; we saw in that context that some politicians also have little knowledge about how the internet and the media work.

Therefore, I do think that media literacy is very important in the digital age, but it is not the only solution to fake news. The education system, the media and the government have a responsibility to ensure that citizens are well-informed and that we live in healthy democratic societies.

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