Can We Develop a Vaccine for Bullshit? Educating Children in Media Literacy

January 15, 2023

It’s not a coincidence that the most powerful industry in the world spent 40 years undermining people’s trust in science and now we’re seeing the re-emergence of Polio. Solutions needed.


Twitter has always been a hotspot for climate change misinformation.

Under new owner Elon Musk, falsehoods about the warming planet are whipping around the social media platform at a sizzling pace, according to a study of climate-related conversations shared exclusively with USA TODAY.

The new report echoes recent research showing a surge in climate misinformation since Musk bought the company in October.

Tweets using terms associated with climate denial such as “climate fraud,” “climate hoax” and “climate scam” more than tripled in 2022, up 300% from 2021, according to Advance Democracy, a research organization that studies misinformation.

Musk fired the sustainability team working on a Twitter account, @TwitterEarth, that was launched in November as “the voice of COP27” before the U.N. climate conference began.

“Climate denial on Twitter was already a dumpster fire; now, it’s as if it had a litre of gas thrown on it,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told The Times.

Philadelphia Inquirer:

New Jersey has become the first state in the country to require public schools to teach media literacy to K-12 students as a way to combat misinformation, under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Advocates say the measure will help students who are bombarded with information from social media and news outlets learn how to discern whether the sources are credible. Media literacy will be required at every grade level.

“Our democracy remains under sustained attack through the proliferation of disinformation that is eroding the role of truth in our political and civic discourse,”Murphy said in a statement. “It is our responsibility to ensure our nation’s future leaders are equipped with the tools necessary to identify fact from fiction.”

The bill was overwhelmingly approved last month by the Legislature with bipartisan support. It was backed by the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, which believes it will change the education landscape in the state.

“Living in the digital era gives us access to endless information, but not all is equal. That is why it’s so important to prepare students in New Jersey with a robust information literacy education,” according to a statement byAssembly Democrats, including Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (Camden), a bill sponsor.

The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump protesting the outcome of his defeat pushed information literacy to the forefront. Besides false claims that the presidential race and other elections around the country were stolen, misinformation spread during the pandemic about COVID-19 vaccines as well.

“At a time when misinformation and disinformation are eroding the foundations of that democracy, it is imperative that students have the tools they need to determine what information they can trust,” said Sean M. Spiller, president of the New Jersey Education Association.

New York Times:

A typical lesson that Saara Martikka, a teacher in Hameenlinna, Finland, gives her students goes like this: She presents her eighth graders with news articles. Together, they discuss: What’s the purpose of the article? How and when was it written? What are the author’s central claims?

“Just because it’s a good thing or it’s a nice thing doesn’t mean it’s true or it’s valid,” she said. In a class last month, she showed students three TikTok videos, and they discussed the creators’ motivations and the effect that the videos had on them.

Her goal, like that of teachers around Finland, is to help students learn to identify false information.

Finland ranked No. 1 of 41 European countries on resilience against misinformation for the fifth time in a row in a survey published in October by the Open Society Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. Officials say Finland’s success is not just the result of its strong education system, which is one of the best in the world, but also because of a concerted effort to teach students about fake news. Media literacy is part of the national core curriculum starting in preschool.

“No matter what the teacher is teaching, whether it’s physical education or mathematics or language, you have to think, ‘OK, how do I include these elements in my work with children and young people?’” said Leo Pekkala, the director of Finland’s National Audiovisual Institute, which oversees media education.

After Finland, the European countries that ranked highest for resilience to misinformation in the Open Society Institute survey were Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland and Sweden. The countries that were the most vulnerable to misinformation were Georgia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. The survey results were calculated based on scores for press freedom, the level of trust in society and scores in reading, science and math.

The United States was not included in the survey, but other polls show that misinformation and disinformation have become more prevalent since 2016 and that Americans’ trust in the news media is near a record low. A survey by Gallup, published in October, found that just 34 percent of Americans trusted the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly, slightly higher than the lowest number that the organization recorded, in 2016. In Finland, 76 percent of Finns consider print and digital newspapers to be reliable, according to an August survey commissioned by a trade group representing Finnish newspapers that was conducted by IRO Research, a market research company.

Finland has advantages in countering misinformation. Its public school system is among the best in the world. College is free. There is high trust in the government, and Finland was one of the European countries least affected by the pandemic. Teachers are highly respected.


One Response to “Can We Develop a Vaccine for Bullshit? Educating Children in Media Literacy”

  1. ubrew12 Says:

    “a surge in climate misinformation since… October” Designed to defend a trickle of ‘free speech’, our First Amendment is now pressed to justify a flood of ‘paid speech’. The truth is: talk is cheap, so cheap it was always free. The First Amendment is defending speakers, not speech. Speakers who can be jailed, or worse, for saying what they think. Which is hardly a problem for an industry that clears a trillion dollars a year in pure profit and can hide it’s influence behind a bewildering array of fully-funded ‘Think Tanks’, who in turn fund ‘plain-speakers’ to fill our heads full of garbage. Among the ‘free speakers’ Musk is defending is Vladimir Putin, who in 2016 paid Russians to vocalize online Both sides of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ controversy, so as to drive the Noise louder than the Signal. If there’s one thing we know now: if you find yourself taking the side of Vladimir Putin… stop.

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