The Pitfalls of Media Literacy
The benefits of teaching media literacy in schools are often touted as an effective means of tackling mis- and disinformation. The idea being that by teaching critical thinking skills and methods for analysing the content we consume, we can move towards a society better equipped to handle the fire-hose of information presented to us. However unless such an approach is implemented correctly, we risk only deepening existing divides.
Although the topics discussed in media literacy classes will obviously vary from school to school and from country to country, we can generalise and say that the average approach focuses on teaching 3 foundational skills:
- Safe media consumption
- Critical thinking
- Fact checking
Despite these skill’s simplicity, we should take precautions to ensure we don’t amplify existing issues. By this I mean that if the approach adopted for teaching places too much emphasis on only trusting what we have verified, we risk creating a “question everything” environment. One where individuals may be uncertain of all the content that is presented to them, pushing it aside until they can assess it for themselves. This mentality, when applied to the current information landscape, would likely result in individuals simply deepening their existing beliefs, and perhaps even to a greater degree than we see currently, as they would be better equipped at finding information which confirms their current stance.
An obvious argument against this idea is that surely because someone has been taught fact-checking and research skills, they would be able to find information that presents a more truthful and accurate worldview. Unfortunately this is where the issue of bias comes in. As a species we are naturally drawn and inclined to believe content that confirms our existing beliefs. As such, simply teaching these critical thinking skills does not mean we have immediately solved the problem of falling for falsehoods and half-truths.
Media literacy skills are still crucial and should be more widely taught, however it is vital we ensure that we do not build a society which uses this knowledge to only become more deeply ingrained in their current beliefs and opinions. Never before have we had such easy access to such a vast array of information, both good and bad; therefore we need to ensure individuals are educated to not only meaningfully assess the content they consume, but also be able to grapple with and look past their own biases.