This is U.S. Media Literacy Week, an effort spearheaded by the nonprofit National Association for Media Literacy Education to highlight the work of literacy educators who are teaching students how to think critically about the information they consume.
We find it bitterly ironic that Facebook is listed among the corporate sponsors of U.S. Media Literacy Week.
Facebook has done more than any other entity to deliver false information to Americans — particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign. As we noted in a 2017 editorial, as many as 126 million people — or one-third of the U.S. population — may have seen material posted by Russian trolls under fake Facebook identities between 2015 and 2017 (a “troll” is someone who posts inflammatory material to provoke people).
The social media giant has been shamed into doing a better job of blocking disinformation, but it continues to pedal hoaxes and other garbage to drive traffic and its financial performance. And it is shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms that publish third-party content from any legal liability for it.
This is how committed Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is to publishing only truthful information: While that social network uses third-party fact-checkers to vet other kinds of content, it exempts politicians — and political ads — from fact-checking.
“People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth,” Zuckerberg told The Washington Post last week. “At the same time, I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true. And I think that those tensions are something we have to live with.”
If only we could insert the rolling-eyes emoji here.
Facebook says it’s taking measures to block interference from other countries in our elections — including developing technology to detect “deepfakes,” videos that use artificial intelligence to alter what someone is shown doing or saying. Deepfakes are relatively easy to make, according to technology websites, and that makes them dangerous. So we’re glad Facebook is taking these steps.
But it’s not about to give up political advertising revenue in the interest of something as pie-in-the-sky as truth.
If Zuckerberg is making a contribution to media literacy, we guess it’s this: He makes crystal-clear the need for it to be taught. Because consumers of information are on their own. Facebook isn’t going to do the work of elevating truth from its river of falsehoods.
It’s up to us all.
How to be media-literate
We’re grateful for the school librarians and teachers who have taken on the vital challenge of teaching media literacy.
Kids — who seem to live on their smartphones — are bombarded by information on social media, much of it unreliable.
And there are no signs the bombardment is going to ease. So teaching them how to assess the reliability of information is essential.
Here are a few media literacy tips:
— Don’t rely on just one source. That’s a fundamental rule of newspaper journalism — and it should be a rule for news consumers, too.
— Choose reliable sources, such as newspapers like LNP.
It seems counterintuitive, but this is how you know newspapers are reliable: We admit and correct our mistakes. (In LNP, errors are noted and corrected on Page A2.)
It would be easier to hide those mistakes, but it also would be unethical. Beware any source that never admits its errors.
— Distinguish between news and opinion.
“Hannity” and “The Rachel Maddow Show” are not news broadcasts; they are opinion shows.
LNP’s Opinion department — which seeks to offer more diverse commentary than Maddow and Sean Hannity — is strictly separate from LNP’s news department.
— Read information critically: Does it make sense? Is it supported by facts? Are sources cited? Does the writer have a discernible agenda? Is the authorship clear?
— Think before you share. We’ve all shared suspect content. An example: a viral Facebook post that said kids with autism carry blue buckets when trick-or-treating. We almost fell for that one ourselves — other media organizations did — but Snopes.com tells us that a blue Halloween bucket is “not a widely recognized symbol for people with autism.”
Harvard University Library offers these other suggestions:
— “Consider the source. Strange domain names or websites that end in ‘lo’ ... are signs you should be wary.”
— “Look for visual clues: Fake news websites may use sloppy or unprofessional design and overuse ALL CAPS.”
— And our favorite: “When in doubt ... ask a librarian.”
It’s not only internet trolls and hostile foreign governments we need to guard against.
As the Lansing State Journal reported earlier this week, “Dozens of websites branded as local news outlets launched throughout Michigan this fall ... promising local news but also offering political messaging.”
Presented as if they were local newspaper sites, with names that suggest they are, these sites are published by Metric Media LLC, which plans to launch thousands of such sites nationwide, the Lansing State Journal reported.
Their apparent aim is to take advantage of the demise of local newspapers and confuse readers into thinking they’re delivering straight local news, while actually conveying political content.
As noted by the website Nieman Journalism Lab — in a post titled “Watch your URL: Local news outlets have to ward off more politically-funded local competitors ahead of 2020” — Russian operatives “created social media accounts attached to fake local news sites” during the 2016 presidential campaign.
These particular fake local news sites seem to be homegrown, however, and are being pressed by political partisans.
So reader beware.