Each year, as I prepare for my Media Literacy unit with my Freshmen, I scour my various social media timelines for examples of things to share with my students to challenge their critical thinking and research skills, and to spark discussions about their own experiences consuming media.
This year, an example came in my own Facebook timeline. A friend shared an image from reddit that took a jab at President Trump. It was worded in the same way as some of the conservative-leaning posts that my family members share on the platform (some of which I have traced to questionable origins).
Whenever I see these kinds of posts, which are intended to appeal to a particular emotion, I am skeptical. I might do a reverse image search, or click on the profile of the original poster, or look up the statement myself to see if it is accurate. In this case, I looked up what the post was claiming, and the first hit was a Snopes article.
I ended up posting the Snopes article under the post showing that it was false/exaggerated. In some cases, it might be better to privately message the author to avoid public confrontation or embarrassment. On the flip side, if the original poster does not decide to edit their post or take it down, then the falsehood continues to stay there, and has the potential to be shared again. We should be talking through these strategies and decisions with our students as well. How do they handle misinformation or disinformation being shared by people in their timelines?
It only takes 5 minutes
There are a few additional practices that can help figure out who you may be talking to or who may be connecting with you on social media. Just recently, I was followed by an account claiming to be an Army General stationed in Syria. Something didn’t seem right about the account (aside from an Army general being interested in following my tweets). The account was new in December (that month), the account handle had a long string of numbers in it, and when I clicked on his account, it was all retweets. I did a quick reverse image search and discovered that the account profile image had been listed on Tinder as John Williams in Russia, and that there was an article with the word “SCAMPOLICE” in the title.
I immediately reported the account and blocked the user, but not before tweeting out the account and what I had found.
It took me about 5 minutes to do this work. We have to be willing to take that 5 minutes to see if we can find out more about who people are before we connect with them, or re-share their content.
In the classroom…
Too often, when we teach research skills to students, we focus on articles, blogs, Wikipedia, and other resources. However, many of our students are getting their news, politics, and other information through social media. We need to include analysis of social media posts, and tips and tricks for validating information on social media just as we do for traditional websites.
To be fair, this is not a kid problem. Adults are poor models for this work, which makes our work as educators harder. Sharing blindly has become the norm, and people don’t always like being called out on their errors.
Still, young people today will eventually be adults, and, even at a young age, can help change the norms about how we treat the media we consume, create and share online.
If you want to learn more about teaching Media Literacy in the K-12 classroom, check out my new book, Digital and Media Literacy in the Age of the Internet: Practical Classroom Applications