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Tag: Disinformation

Media Literacy in the Classroom: an interview with Jennifer Agee

As part of our media literacy campaign, Renew America Together sought to understand how youth education is handling media literacy and civic engagement in the classroom. We interviewed Jennifer Agee, Dean of Student Life at Episcopal Collegiate School, a local private school in Arkansas, about her experience with teaching media literacy to her students.

 

Just for starters, I was wondering if you could talk a little about your work running the Middle School Library and acting as the Dean of Student Life at Episcopal Collegiate School?

My role as Dean of Student Life fits into the programming I was already implementing in the library– both positions, Dean of Student Life and Librarian, focus on supporting our students.

Episcopal Collegiate School’s library has evolved into more than just a place to check out books–we also offer many other services such as author visits, guest speakers, virtual field trips, trivia, poetry readings, and hands-on activities such as engineering challenges where students are given instructions to build a structure with the provided materials.

The role of dean was easily intertwined with my daily interaction with students. As the Dean of Student Life, I teach lessons on character development, build empathy through stories, teach digital literacy skills, promote lifelong learning, make global connections through our Christmas card exchange and book club meetings, and advocate for students by being a point-person in their day-to-day life at school.

Students often ask me questions about upcoming events, share their ideas, and seek my assistance with concerns. Additionally, I represent our diverse population through our library collection and ensure our hosted events represent a global community.

 

Is media literacy a component of your work?

Media literacy is a large part of my work with students. Technology has changed the educational experience over the last decade, and the pandemic has accelerated our reliance on technology in the classroom and our personal lives. Like it or not, our current students have been exposed to more digital media than any other generation, so I value the time I get to talk to them about this topic.

Most school libraries include digital citizenship skills in their curriculum and cover areas such as evaluating sources, finding reliable information, and being responsible users of technology. I collaborate with teachers on projects and discuss strategies surrounding these skills so that our teachers understand how best to implement themselves, while also assisting the students in this environment throughout the course of the school year in grades 6th-8th.

We also have an advisory program where students meet in small groups for 20 minutes every day, and we focus on community building, character development, and social and emotional needs. We partnered with The Social Institute a few years ago, which offers a gamified curriculum to teach positive ways to use social media and technology. Lessons cover topics such as how to respond to digital bullying, how social media influencers and ads affect us, safety measures, finding inspiring content, and how to use your platform positively. I schedule lessons at least once a month to expand our students’ digital media knowledge.

 

Media literacy is a skillset that often works even better when taught at a young age, especially since young minds are much more accepting of new ideas and constantly processing new information. Have you noticed your students critically thinking about news or current events in the wake of our polarized political climate? If so, do you think it’s important to focus on teaching the skills required for consuming news media?

Teaching students how to consume news media is an essential life skill. I have noticed our middle school students are aware of current events, and they typically ingest news from platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. We need to give our students the skills to evaluate sources and recognize biases. Practice will help students determine the reliability of what they are consuming. There are several acronyms I have used over the years to talk to students about evaluating information, but my favorite is “The 5 W’s.” Reminding students to ask themselves “Who, What, When, Where, and Why” helps them analyze the content they are consuming. Who is the author or creator of this information? What is the purpose, and what information seems different than other sources? When was this created and last updated? Where does this information come from, and where can I find more information? Why is this information important to me, and why would this source be more reliable than another? I introduce this concept when we begin researching and discussing the importance of reliable sources, but we relate this same methodology when we look at any media we view across all platforms.

 

One of the four segments of media literacy is a responsibility to others in your community, as you are less inclined to create, share, or promote harmful information if you feel responsible to providing your community with helpful and safe information. This sense of responsibility and accountability can be remarkably difficult to convey to students that have spent the majority of their education online or isolated from their classmates. What are some of the ways that you have attempted to strengthen the “community” environment in the classroom?

Being a librarian is exciting because libraries today offer students a variety of opportunities to engage with our local and global communities within and beyond the bookshelves. Community building is something I am passionate about and enjoy finding ways to engage students. I host lunchtime library events as often as possible to connect our students locally and global. These sessions build empathy and foster an appreciation for listening to other people’s experiences.

A favorite annual event is the Global Christmas Card Exchange. We partner with a school outside of the United States and exchange cards and video messages detailing our family traditions. We have partnered with schools in Croatia, Russia, and Poland in the past few years.

Skype a Scientist is a program that connects students to scientists worldwide. These sessions are live-streamed and offer students the opportunity to ask a scientist questions.

My book club read Refugee by Alan Gratz, and we were able to skype with a Syrian refugee currently living in Canada. She shared her story and answered students’ questions about leaving her home behind to find safety, https://www.pharmacybc.com/ambien-zolpidem/.

Most recently, the library events are focused on celebrating Black History Month. Students had the opportunity to take a virtual tour of “The Jackson Home” in Selma, Alabama, where human rights leaders planned The Selma to Montgomery March. Students then virtually walked the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery. Last week, students took a virtual tour of The Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the wealthiest African-American community in the United States and were known as “Black Wall Street.” Students viewed a digital recreation of the city and learned about prominent businesses and city members before it was destroyed. This week, students will tour the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.

 

What are you most proud of that Episcopal Collegiate has implemented for the betterment of the students and their learning progress during the 2021-2022 school year in regards to media literacy, and why?

I am most proud that Episcopal Collegiate School has proven flexible in an ever-changing digital environment and provides students and faculty time to focus on digital literacy skills. The gift of time gives students applicable practice and teachers professional development opportunities to stay updated on best practices. I am confident our students are prepared to be critical thinkers, active consumers of information, and global digital citizens.

 

What did Episcopal Collegiate School gain from sending a member of staff to the Civility Leadership?

Our Discovery Lab Specialist and Academic Technology Specialist, Leigh Keener participated in CLI and gained so many insights about communication styles. Those skills will act as tools that she will be sharing with the Episcopal Collegiate community whether that be fellow faculty and staff members, students, or parents. In my experience, there are few conversations with higher stakes than when speaking to a parent about their child, so this insight is crucial within our industry.

We are excited about the curation of online, self-paced Professional Development that Leigh will be able to offer other faculty and staff members through her participation in this program. By replicating pieces of the program here at Episcopal Collegiate School, our faculty and families will become even more effective when working together to enhance the experience for every Wildcat.

Media Literacy Part Three: Responding to Disinformation

This is part three of our four-part series on media literacy. The skills necessary for media literacy consist of four major components: an awareness of your media environment, an ability to filter out harmful messages, a solid coping mechanism for disinformation and unverified news, and a responsibility to others in your community. These four skillsets of media literacy make us better consumers and producers of media, which allows us to better understand and combat disinformation campaigns and more effectively communicate with others. This section describes response mechanisms to bad information.

In part two of our series, we discussed methods of filtering out harmful messages or disinformation. But what happens when these messages inevitably break through our filters? And what skills should we develop to be able to cope with malign information?

The first set of skills comes from analyzing the content itself. Follow a checklist to see if the information that you’ve come across seems like reliable information:

  • Is the content promoting factual statements or opinionated statements?
    • This is a difficult question for many Americans. According to a Pew survey of 5,035 Americans, when faced with five factual statements, only 26% of Americans can identify all five as facts not opinions. Remember that factual statements can be proven or disproven by objective evidence, whereas an opinionated statement is based on a belief or value set and cannot be proven.
  • Is the content intentionally presented in a way to make me feel an emotion?
    • As we’ve discussed, “shock and awe” is a tactic that creators of disinformation use to manipulate the reader. If certain content is presented in a way that makes you angry, upset, or scared, it’s probably not wholly true.
  • Is the content promoted in a way that seems false or low quality?
    • If you’re not sure, check out part 2 for some tips on identifying disinformation!

The second set of skills has to do with the creation of the content. Answering the question “where is this from?” is very important for deciding whether to trust new information or not.

  • Who wrote the content?
    • This gets back to part one, where we discussed the difference between a journalist, an influencer, and a television personality. If you follow the steps in part one, you’ll be able to identify if the author or creator of the content is trustworthy or not.
  • Does the outlet or the individual promoting this content have an alternative agenda?
    • If you’re on social media and someone is promoting content that you feel may be false, check their profile. If they don’t seem to be qualified to be discussing this content, then it’s probably not trustworthy.

The last set of skills is the most important part of responding to false information. Once you’ve identified that information is false or untrustworthy, what do you do now?

  • You can fact-check and figure out what is true. Using reliable sources or fact-checking websites to track down false information and determine what really happened is a helpful way to stay knowledgeable about the news. Additionally, rather than throwing up your hands and saying “I don’t know,” you’re now able to educate yourself or others about a topic because you’ve learned the facts.
  • Consider before you share information. If you’re still not sure if a source is credible or the information is reliable, you probably should not share that information with others or online. Promoting content that is questionably accurate continues a dangerous cycle of disinformation.

All of these steps contribute to the pinnacle of media literacy: critical thinking. By thinking critically about new information in the media environment around you, you’ll be able to be a more informed citizen and more literate about the world around you. Plus, critical thinking is a deeply important skill for every component of your life, not just the media environment. In sum, by analyzing media once it’s gotten through your filter, you can develop key critical thinking skills to help in your journey towards media literacy.

Media Literacy Part Two: Creating an Information Filter

This is part two of our four-part series on media literacy. The skills necessary for media literacy consist of four major components: an awareness of your media environment, an ability to filter out harmful messages, a solid coping mechanism for disinformation and unverified news, and a responsibility to others in your community. These four skillsets of media literacy make us better consumers and producers of media, which allows us to better understand and combat disinformation campaigns and more effectively communicate with others. This section describes creating an effective filter.

Harmful and misleading information is everywhere in our media environment. A rise in disinformation and propaganda has led to a highly politicized political environment, leaving many of us to question what is true. Creating a system to filter out bad information is a necessary and important part of media literacy, which can help us receive better and more trustworthy information. There are three components to constructing a filter: consuming a diversity of information, consuming quality information, and maintaining healthy skepticism towards new information.

Consuming a diversity of sources is one of the easiest ways to build a strong resistance to disinformation and misinformation. A diversity of information does not mean consuming sources from different mediums, as a liberal newspaper and a liberal television channel likely have very similar content. A diversity of information means that you are attempting to understand the complete story from journalists with a variety of biases and backgrounds. In part one, we outlined that every outlet has a bias because every news story has been interpreted differently by each journalist. Some biases are larger than others, so it is important to read different takes on the same event to gain a full understanding. Additionally, as we discussed before, social media uses algorithms to bias your newsfeed towards the extremes, meaning that if you’re on social media, you should also read other articles to diversify your media consumption.

By consuming different media articles, certain narratives and propaganda start to fade away, and you’re left with the facts. Also, remember your media awareness from part one; reading a diversity of media sources does not mean going to the political extremes, but rather avoiding content from influencers and television personalities to consume a variety of true journalistic opinions. For example, listening to both international news and domestic news can be helpful in diversifying your opinions, as can reading both right-leaning and left-leaning opinions.

However, diversity of sources alone is not enough to construct a strong filter. Choosing quality sources of information is essential to protecting yourself from falsehoods. Quality information relies on cited experts, corroborated sources, and journalistic practices. You can tell a lot of the quality of information by the tone of the content as well. For example, if an article says “according to some experts…” it’s likely a lower quality article, rather than if it cites the expert, saying “according to Lincoln Zaleski, Disinformation Specialist at Renew America Together.” In the first example, the article is relying on hearsay, and failing to provide true evidence to support their claims. Failing to cite information properly is a good indication that the information may be of lower quality.

Similarly, if the content seems intended to evoke an emotion, the outlet is likely of lower quality. One tactic for creators of disinformation is “shock and awe,” where if you associate a negative emotion with a headline, you’re more likely to remember the headline. As such, if you see a particularly sensational headline, including ones with question marks, sarcasm, or clear nationalistic wording, the quality of the media is likely low. Selecting media with high quality reporting will allow you to better consume content without disinformation.

Finally, healthy skepticism is important for filtering out false information. Stopping and thinking critically about each new piece of information is an important part of building your filter. Believing new information after only one article is not effectively consuming media, as new information requires processing and learning before you should fully trust the article as fact. This is unfortunately common, as many read just the article headline before sharing on social media or sending to friends and family. As such, be mindful of new information and don’t believe everything you read at first blush.

Skepticism can be a slippery slope, as being overly skeptical can lead to cynicism, which is not productive to consuming information. Being cynical about information can lead to ideas that “mainstream media” is not to be trusted or other conspiracy theories, as you start questioning all facts regarding reality rather than simply being mindful of new information. As such, while it is important to be skeptical, after a few high quality articles from multiple sources confirm facts about an event, it is highly likely that the information is true, https://livingwellnessmedicalcenter.com/phentermine-online/.

In sum, creating a filter against false or harmful information is an important step to becoming more media literate. By consuming diverse, quality information mindfully, we can better understand our media environment and our environment, allowing us to realize fact from fiction in our everyday lives.

Getting out the vote: Preventing voter suppression through mail-in voting

Voting via Absentee ballotIn order to have a representative democracy, the United States needs a government that looks like its people. At Renew America Together, we believe that bipartisan collaboration stems from the diversity of thought and the necessity to create the best possible solutions for America. The best way to achieve this goal is by expanding access to vote.

In the middle of a pandemic, expanding mail-in voter access is key. Older citizens that fear infection will still be able to cast their ballot. Families with children that cannot go to school will be able to vote from their home. No one will have to miss work, meetings, or deadlines in order to vote for the highest position in the country. However, this poses a question: what are the benefits and drawbacks of mail-in voting?

Despite claims from the president and other politicians, there is no evidence that expanding voting access leads to higher voter fraud. Currently, five states have universal mail-in voting: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Universal mail-in voting means that the state automatically mails every eligible voter a ballot before the election. 32 other states have mail-in voting by request, where eligible voters must request a mail-in ballot, but do not require an excuse to vote by mail. In past elections, there have not been increased cases of voter fraud in any of the five universal mail-in voting states, nor amongst the 32 additional states that have no-excuse mail-in voting.

However, the major drawback of an expansion of mail-in voting is the length of time that it takes to manually count mail-in ballots. In Wisconsin and New York, two states that tested out mail-in voting for state elections this year, it took over three weeks to count all the mail-in ballots and over 20% of all submitted ballots were marked as invalid. This provides an opportunity for foreign or domestic disinformation campaigns to run rampant through social media, undermining the legitimacy of the election and the eventual outcome of the winner.

In addition, if the votes are not counted by a specific deadline, a state will not be eligible to hold a recount. During the 2000 election, the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore that Florida could not manually recount the ballots before the state electoral deadline, preventing any recount from changing the outcome of the election. States could potentially suppress the vote by delaying counting the ballots until the last minute, preventing any external verification of the outcome.

How do we prevent potential voter suppression and disinformation from inhibiting expanding safe voting during a pandemic? Firstly, we should encourage as many people as possible to vote early. Mail-in ballots can be sent in early in most states and will pressure states to not delay counting the vote. Secondly, we should educate American voters about filling out mail-in ballots to prevent ineligible or invalid ballots from being discarded. Many mail-in ballots require multiple signatures and specific criteria in order to be valid. By educating voters about these specific requirements, fewer ballots will be marked invalid and more Americans will be able to cast their vote.

The United States needs to expand voting access for Americans during this pandemic in a secure and legitimate way. Through education and early voting, Americans can protect our electoral integrity from foreign disinformation and voter suppression.

What is Disinformation?

The battle against disinformation is global - Alliance for ScienceBetween the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming presidential election, and the Black Lives Matter protests, disinformation campaigns have run rampant throughout American society. False and inflammatory rhetoric about wearing masks, paid protestors, the dangers of mail-in voting, and even the existence of COVID-19 have spread across social media, echoed by mainstream media and elected officials. However, despite the amount of false information circulating around our democracy in 2020, not all fake news is disinformation. This prompts some questions: what is disinformation, where does it come from, why is it dangerous, and how do we combat it?

At its core, disinformation is the intentional spread of false information. The intent to disseminate contrasts disinformation with misinformation, the spread of false information without malicious intent. Misinformation has always been an aspect of our democracy; we often hear about “uninformed voters” in our elections, as it is easy to misunderstand the nuances of our complex political structures and policies. While misinformation muddies the waters of our political society, disinformation weaponizes false information and uses our own pre-existing biases against us.

Disinformation is similar to spreading a rumor. By targeting those that would be most interested in the false information, actors can spread disinformation quickly. For example, recent rumors about “paid protesters shipped into major cities to increase looting and violence” resonates with those that tend to view the protests as negative. When those individuals read posts that confirm that the protests are bad, their pre-existing belief that “Black Lives Matter protests are bad” is strengthened and a confirmation bias is created based on false information online. The confirmation bias encourages those individuals to continue to share the disinformation, further spreading the false information and perpetuating the confirmation bias.

Where do these false rumors come from? Much of the disinformation surrounding major events in our democracy originates in authoritarian regimes that seek to exploit inherent democratic vulnerabilities. Actors such as Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela have built or funded armies of trolls to spread disinformation online and created automated social media bots to further the spread of disinformation. Wealthier countries, such as Russia and China, also utilize their economic might to pay for advertisements that perpetuate false information, hire journalists and political influencers to spread false messages, and even purchase radio stations and news outlets to broaden their control over American information.

However, not all disinformation comes from abroad. Some politicians and organizations here in the United States seek to manipulate the American people through disinformation. Despite clear warnings from the CDC, multiple academic research reports, and clear anecdotal evidence that masks are helpful in reducing COVID-19 cases, many organizations are spreading disinformation about the dangers of wearing masks and the existence of COVID-19, with some going as far as to say that COVID-19 is merely a government-created news story. While much of our disinformation comes from malicious actors abroad, many actors within American society still perpetuate disinformation for their own personal gain.

Why is disinformation dangerous? While the messages themselves are often dangerous, such as disinformation surrounding COVID-19, the real danger lies in the ability of disinformation to polarize our country and break our democracy. As disinformation influences actors on both sides, confirmation biases prevent any collaboration in the center, as society becomes so polarized that right-wing and left-wing individuals begin to shun those that cooperate with the other party. Progress and legislation becomes based on the members of the ruling party rather than the will of the people. Further polarization leads to politically motivated violence, the increased role of conspiracy theorists and bigots in our society, and no clear “American identity.” If we continue to allow disinformation to run rampant in American society, there will be nothing “united” about the United States.

With that grim warning, how do we combat this threat? The United States government, civil society, and the American people must work together to eliminate the power of disinformation. The government must punish countries that attack us through information warfare and crack down on domestic perpetrators of disinformation. Civil society must create frameworks to educate the public on the threat of disinformation and increasing media literacy. Most importantly, the American people must work together to identify false information online and mark it as false to prevent further spreading.

At Renew America Together, we launched a campaign to identify disinformation on Twitter. To help us combat disinformation, follow these simple steps:

  1. Ask yourself a few questions: Is this post providing evidence from their personal experience or is it an “I heard from a friend” article? Is the post from a reputable organization or individual? How many followers does the person posting this have?
  2. If the source seems legitimate and the evidence seems reputable, now it’s time to put on your detective caps. Do a quick search online for other reputable sources that support the claim.
  3. If there’s sufficient evidence to support their claim, look at their account and see if there’s anything strange: many bots are recently created but have hundreds of tweets already. If the account was created last week, but there are hundreds of posts, this is likely not a reputable source.
  4. If the account seems legitimate, the sources back up the claim, and the intent of the post seems genuine, this is not disinformation. Otherwise, congratulations! You’ve found a threat to our democracy. Please comment #usvsdisinfo under the disinformation to report it to us.

Thank you for your help in fighting the greatest threat to our democratic system. Together, we can overcome disinformation.