Media Literacy Theory of Action
Context And Need: Media Literacy Gaps
Complex activities like finding and evaluating information online and deciding whether and how to use that information (particularly in social media) requires elements of media literacy that many schools do not teach effectively. These gaps limit how students participate in online environments they depend on to self-actualize.
Media literacy gaps are problematic collectively as well as individually. Society depends on schools to close such gaps for good citizenship in communities at all scales. But schools are failing to meet this need: Earth citizens reject climate science, contributing to inaction; US citizens believe the 2020 election “stolen” and threaten democracy; school board members vote against mask mandates and threaten public health; and Instagram-socialized adolescents bully peers into anxiety, depression, and suicide.
As students mature, they are ready to read information written for adults, and consider their future role (or in Greta Thunberg’s case, current role) as potential civic actors in the fight to make the world better. Schools must prepare students for civic responsibility, and this includes discerning and fighting for truth.
A Theory of Action for Media Literacy Units
The Role of Fake News Literacy, (Huber et al, 2022) studies the link between media literacy and corrective action: not only the ability to process questionable information critically, but also to create reliable information. What supports this kind of media literacy? News skepticism and political knowledge, such as might be obtained around the dinner table, are helpful, but "DYOR" (Do Your Own Research) has become the motto of those who fall under the sway of conspiracy theories like QAnon and Anti-vaccine propaganda.
News Media Literacy is a counterforce to misinformation's sway. Understanding standards-based journalism and the practices and reputations of news publications helps identify the flaws in stories posing as news. Students who follow current events develop background knowledge and begin to sense the conceptual pattern of claim, evidence, and reasoning in new stories. Understanding the need not to take presented information on face value is described as appreciating a Need for Cognition (NFC).
Reinforcing News Media Literacy, and highly germane to teenagers, is Social Media critical awareness. As familiar as students may be with Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, many do not understand that lies, conspiracy theories and propaganda are frequently injected into social media feeds by algorithms that make money by generating attention and sharing. As students notice these injections in their social feeds, they can begin to take responsibility to respond in ways that counteract the influence of misinformation, both passively (not sharing) and actively (critical commenting). This is described as developing a Media Locus of Control (MLOC).
Fake News Fitness units include News Literacy (reflected in ELA and Civics standards) and Social Media Literacy (loosely reflected in Digital Literacy standards concerning individual and social impacts of technology). By featuring student-centered approaches, these units help students build self-efficacy both as critical information consumers (less likely to be fooled) and as civic actors (helping improve how we think and communicate online).
The diagram shared by the authors above illustrates what Fake News Fitness hopes to accomplish with its media literacy units.