By Erin McNeill
So, fake news would be the issue that finally raised media literacy in the public consciousness. In the media literacy world, no one had predicted it. Some of us thought the public health issues would be the thing. Although we’re not happy about the damage fake news has wrought to our civic discourse, we take some solace in the fact that the urgent issue of media literacy is finally getting attention, and we are energized. Media and the cheap technology that delivers it are changing us, as individuals and as a society, often without our approval or input. It’s time we were having the BIG conversations to examine these issues in depth.
But while fake news has raised the level of attention, there is also a danger of focusing too narrowly on a single effect of media. At Media Literacy Now, we’ve worked over the past several years to ensure that the policies we promote result in a comprehensive approach to educating all students about a wide range of media issues. Media literacy education should prepare young people to be wise consumers and creators of media — all media. Not just fake news. And, not just the videos they post on YouTube. And… not just when they are being approached by strangers with bad ideas in chat rooms. And not just when they are doing research on the “tree octopus” in school. But all the media, all the time.
For years, we’ve seen new laws around cyberbullying, then sexting, as each new crisis emerges. These are all part of a bigger picture. While it’s tempting to jump on the latest bandwagon, I’d like to suggest that legislators refrain from introducing legislation that calls for teaching critical thinking about fake news alone, based on the latest pizza shop shoot out, or any recent Stanford study with the latest education failure outrage.
Because next, someone is going to realize that 10-year-olds have gotten their hands on powerful video-camera-equipped drones that can live stream to the web. With years of video game play behind them, you know they can pilot those things anywhere. Should we enact new laws banning young people from spying in windows with drones? Or is that too narrow?
Meanwhile, face recognition software and augmented reality hold all sorts of positive, and negative, potential for our world. Mass surveillance is rarely discussed in social studies class. We cannot piecemeal our way to a future of grand possibility while technology rushes quickly ahead of our human ability to cope. Let’s develop together, now, the new social norms for social media that we can share with our children. Let’s develop those norms for surveillance technology, and for sophisticated persuasive marketing techniques and media designed to be addictive, and for whatever comes next. Let’s launch the broad conversations before we launch the wi-fi drones.