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Originally published by By LISA CUTTER and BARBARA MCLACHLAN in Greeley Tribune Social media use has exploded over the past two decades while traditional media institutions have been diminished. The same social media sites and apps that we use to share pictures with our friends and families have also become the primary news source for just under one-fifth of U.S. adults, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis. But those social media sites and more distributed reporting often lack the robust fact-checking standards, years of editorial expertise, and layers of filters that characterize traditional media. These days, anyone is able to post, share, and go viral, and it has become increasingly easy to pretend to be a credible news source. This, combined with the loss of institutional quality control, fact-checking, and accountability from major news organizations as those outlets decline in readership and funding, has led to a perfect storm for the rapid, unchecked spread of false information. In this changing media landscape, the burden of evaluating information is shifting from media outlets to the individual. Generally, false information comes in two flavors: misinformation, which is the inadvertent sharing of false information, and disinformation, which is the deliberate dissemination of false information. Many people, us included, have spread misinformation at some point in our lives. Maybe you shared a family member’s post on Facebook in response to a current event without checking its source, and it later turned out to be untrue. This is surprisingly common–in fact, falsehoods are 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth and will spread to reach 1,500 people approximately six times faster than the truth, according to a study done by MIT. Media literacy works to prevent the spread of misinformation on two different fronts: the sharer and the reader. That’s why you as a sharer have a responsibility. People trust the information they receive from their friends more than from other sources, so you can magnify your impact by using your media literacy skills to curate what you share to your network. Disinformation — the deliberate dissemination and promotion of false information — on the other hand, is much more sinister. Recently, disinformation has been particularly harmful in the areas of election security, pushing anti-science agendas broadly, and specifically pushing anti-vaccination information. For example, Russia has used Twitter trolls to fuel the anti-vaccination debate in the U.S., and China recently stepped up its own efforts attacking the U.S.-based COVID-19 vaccines. Combating disinformation of this type requires that media consumers are equipped with the skills, tools, and techniques required to defend against this type of targeted disruption. As we face back-to-back and overlapping crises of confidence in our democracy, science, and a public health emergency, it is more important than ever that we, as a democracy, discuss and debate these issues and solutions to them from a base of mutually agreed-upon and verified facts. If, however, we are unable to base our debates and disagreements on a stable foundation of truth, then our very democracy is at risk. It is clear that there is a problem, and media literacy is a powerful solution. Media literacy empowers us with tools and techniques to filter, process, and understand the media we are receiving by helping you to understand the context and biases of media and come to your own conclusions. These are skills that we must develop as individuals in a media ecosystem that does not contain the same safeguards we previously relied on traditional media to provide. In 2019, we passed a bill to establish a media literacy advisory committee, which was tasked with recommending how to incorporate media literacy into elementary and secondary education. This year, our bill to implement those recommendations into K-12 educational standards will be making its way through the legislature. Recent events, such as the 2020 election and the ongoing public health crisis, have only made the need for media literacy education clearer and more urgent. We’ve much work to do in the coming months to overcome the fallout of the pandemic and our contentious political environment. Debate and disagreement are a healthy part of democracy, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we weren’t arguing over the facts, but rather were debating the solutions?



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