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So, what am I supposed to do now?: Mixed Messages on How to Combat Fake News

Wednesday was a confusing day in regards to media literacy. This is not necessarily a bad confusion. It’s more of a cognitive dissonance which one of my professors in teaching school told me was exactly the state of mind in which the best learning occurs.

Danah Boyd’s keynote address, “What Hath We Wrought?” was about the issues that we face in our participatory culture. One of her main points was that there are some pretty serious unintended consequenced of the media literacy techniques that are commonly used. I think she was saying that our strategies are overly simplistic. A student could just end-up questioning all mainstream media, which could lead them to start trusting alternative sources that might lead them down an unhealthy path. By her own admission, she had few concrete suggestions as to how to combat this issue. However, she proposed that we consider and experiment with lessons that heighten empathy and epistemology to help students to become more savvy consumers of media. 

The second session that I went to, about an hour after the keynote was a guided discussion by a high school journalism teacher on media literacy…the kind of media literacy that Boyd had been criticizing. Needless to say, the moderator of this discussion had to respond more than once to the criticisms presented by the keynote speaker. Furthermore, an important message that he tried to send to students was that students could usually trust the facts to mainstream media. With some exceptions, major news sources will get the facts of an event right. However, students have to look at multiple sources to find “their truth”. I got what he was saying. Facts are black and white. Truth can be a gray. Some members of the audience took serious issue with the idea of letting students find “their own truth”. I also got what they were saying. Letting people find their own truths feels like the kind of thing that leads to extreme and unhealthy beliefs, which can have tragic consequences.

I’m left feeling unsure as to what the right course of actions is. But, here’s where I’ve landed for now. Despite Boyd’s legitimate criticisms of media literacy, I still see the value in teaching students to be critical and analytical readers. This means identifying bias and measuring reliability. Also, while “find your truth” sound kind of poetic, I think I’ll find other words to convey to students that the nature of an event (current or historical) is not as black and white as we would like. That’s why they need to create an argument and support it with facts. NOTE: This is the first draft of my analysis and synthesis of the keynote address and the media literacy discussion. It’s a work in progress.

Probably the most tangible takeaways from my day of confusion surrounding media literacy was a list of suggested news sources to use in the classroom.

  • Newsomatic
  • Newsela

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