Media and information literacy responses to misinformation

Media and information literacies have long been taught in libraries and classrooms, and with the recent uptick in fake news and discussions about misinformation and disinformation, there have been innumerable articles, books, and games designed to educate consumers about the perils of false information (e.g. the News Literacy Project’s Checkology game). The News Literacy Project (https://newslit.org/), PEN America (https://pen.org/advocacy-campaign/ fraudulent-news/), First Draft (https://firstdraftnews.org/), the Factual (www.thefactual.com/ about.html), the Misinformation Review Journal (https://misinforeview.hks.harvard.edu/), the Center for News Literacy (www.centerfornewsliteracy.org/), the American Library Association (www.ala.org/), and Project Navigate (www.navigateproject.eu/) are but a few consortia of educators, librarians, and journalists working diligently to combat misinformation and disinformation, and they have provided quality tools and strategies to enable teachers to better relay this content to enable students of all ages so they can better discern the information they consume.

For all of the good that the aforementioned groups do with their research and carefully vetted resources and curricula, there are gaps they currently do not fill and audiences they do not reach. Current efforts and responses around fake news, misinformation, and disinformation are seen as academic and are not widely available to the general public and to those who secure their information and ‘news’on social media platforms. Even those who have had literacy instruction and acquired some level of formal education about misinformation and disinformation do not or cannot always automatically transfer their evaluation skills to popular information. Literacy efforts are also lost on those who are willfully ignorant and remain committed to their echo chambers and filter bubbles; no matter the factual information presented, they will not depart from their emotional attachments and beliefs. There are also people who believe that they are immune to false information and/or feel that interventions to the contrary do not apply to them (e.g. the coronavirus pandemic has revealed any number of people and communities that have said that they didn’t believe they could catch the virus, and if they did it, wouldn’t be worse than getting a cold).

These are the gaps that information and media literacies currently do not meet and need to bridge. Instruction and education need to be less academic and more relevant, and they need to meet their intended audiences where they are, which is outside formal classrooms, libraries, and research settings. Educators, librarians, and journalists need to continue developing information and appropriate platforms and pedagogies for non-academic information seekers and users.

of the solution: critical media consumption through multiple literacies

The romanticised lens of populism as a tool of empowerment and democracy provides a vital moment for a brief discussion of media and information literacies as combatants of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation; these literacies, and others, are by design intended to empower people to become savvy information consumers and informed, proactive citizens. This is especially important with the type and amount of information humans regularly face. No one can absorb and utilise all the information that presents itself in the course of a day. As a result, people have implicit and explicit ways of filtering and prioritising information for use. Information and media literacies aim to strengthen and make inherent mental schemas more critical.

Media and information literacies aspire to impart a sense of‘civic agency’ in students and information consumers. These literacies want to advance ‘the power of “the people” to shape their destiny’ (Boyte 2012, p. 173), and they rely on organising and civic education efforts (p. 174) to empower citizens. However, where these literacies tend to fall short, at least in the library and information science and related disciplines, is in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Information and media literacies encourage students to think critically about the quality and origin of information sources, but they don’t always go further and deeper to encourage the examination of the sociocultural and socioinstitutional structures that create and shape said information and media. This gap can prohibit information consumers from recognising xenophobia, racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other oppressions as constructs created and perpetuated by information and media. Subsequently, it is not uncommon for people to share problematic jokes, memes, and other content and think that it is not a big deal or not harmful because the inherent context is not the focus of traditional literacy education. Identifying problematic content is often addressed as a separate skillset, distinct from literacy education, that is taught in the social sciences (as opposed to communication studies, education, library and information science, and other applied disciplines).

The apotheosised version of populism values and combines equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice ‘with a deep commitment to peoples agency and appreciation of the immense particularity of American communities’ (Boyte 2012, p. 175). In order to fully match the tenets of populism, media and information literacies need to do better, they need to go deeper, and they need to be more current, candid, and contextual.

 
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