By Lisa Levine and Brooklyn Levine Sapozhnikov, California MLN state chapter co-chairs

A Senate- and Assembly-passed bill, SB1424, directs the attorney general to establish an advisory group to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms and draft a model strategic plan for these platforms to mitigate the spread of false information through their platforms. This bill, introduced by Senator Richard Pan, also calls for a drafting of a model strategic plan for Internet-based social media platforms to sue to mitigate the spread of false information through their platforms.

We feel that this bill does not support the mission of Media Literacy Now and we urge Gov. Jerry Brown to veto it.

In fact it may be counter to our purposes as it intends to establish a government advisory group that would determine for citizens whether information on the internet is true or false. It would also infringe upon free speech rights by calling for a model strategic plan for internet media platforms to sue to stop the spread of false information on their sites.

The goal of media literacy advocates is to provide educational instruction that will enable individuals to make these determinations for themselves. The problem of “fake news” is not new. The pervasiveness of the internet and social media and the speed with which information and misinformation is disseminated has certainly accelerated and exacerbated this problem. To make matters worse the current technology has helped to perfectly target content to specific users who might be the most easy to convince of a false story. These conditions make it all the more imperative to arm our students and future citizens with the tools to think critically about media in all of its forms, not just “fake news.”

The intention of this bill is to help control the spread of information deemed as false. But who will make these determinations? Should the government be in the position to determine what is truth and what is fiction? Or should an educated citizenry be able to use critical analysis tools acquired through media literacy education to determine this for themselves. This bill treads on a slippery slope towards government censorship and might infringe on First Amendment rights. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in its argument in opposition to this bill states: “Established case law prevents the government from positioning itself as the arbiter of which statements are fictional and which are truthful. Indeed, false statements are often constitutionally protected speech.”

We are concerned about California’s preoccupation with legislation that focuses all of its attention on news media (and uses the term “fake news” in excess), to the exclusion of numerous forms of media that more directly affect young children.

Not many politicians here in CA paid attention to the educational needs of children trying to navigate the world of advertising, film, television, fashion industry, social media, video games, etc. until the “fake news” phenomenon hit them square on through the news media. Now they are hijacking the issue and overlooking the dangers of all the other ubiquitous forms of media children have to contend with. This is frustrating to say the least.

There are many more media areas that directly affect kids and these need to be more urgently addressed. Most young children don’t take much interest in politics and news. But they do watch TV shows, movies, play video games, and are targeted constantly by advertisers. It seems obvious that the ideas being passed around by politicians in discussion of this issue are about them more than they are about kids. Have they ever met any children? “Fake news” is not the most pressing issue in most children’s lives. And we feel that the term “fake news” should be avoided when framing these bills.

It seems to us that both Republicans and Democrats are decimating the effort to arm children with skills to navigate a media saturated world. We don’t think that creating an agency that determines for us what is “fake news” is necessarily a good idea either.We all need to have the skills to determine that for ourselves and a well-conceived media literacy curriculum would significantly help children move towards that end.  We believe California is moving in the wrong direction with this legislation.







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