If current trends continue, 2020 will be the first presidential election in which more Americans get their news from social media than from print newspapers, according to Pew Research Center.
A separate but related finding from Pew may amuse or astound you, depending on your mood:
“Even though a substantial portion of U.S. adults at least occasionally get news on social media, over half (57%) of these news consumers say they expect the news they see on social media to be largely inaccurate.” The emphasis is theirs.
Add a few other ingredients to this recipe — social media is the biggest source of news for young adults aged 18 to 29; Americans see made-up news and information as a bigger problem than terrorism, sexism, racism, or climate change — and you can see why events happening this month are worth thinking about.
Media and Information Literacy Week
UNESCO’s Global Media and Information Literacy Week takes place from October 24-31, with events scheduled around the globe.
In the United States, Media Literacy Week, organized by the National Association for Media Literacy Education, or NAMLE, took place between October 21 and 25. It featured events and activities hosted by hundreds of partners, including schools, media companies, and educational organizations.
“Media literacy empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators, and active citizens,” the Media Literacy Week website says.
It names a few other reasons to give media literacy some attention. For instance, today’s 8- to 18-year-olds spend an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes a day consuming media. This includes hours spent “media multitasking” — using more than one media source at a time. Ninety-two percent of young people go online daily.
“Media literacy is a crucial life skill in the 21st century,” Media Literacy Week’s website argues, and “low-income schools and communities in particular often lack the resources needed to adequately prepare them to create and criticize media and technology.”
Referring to media and information literacy (MIL), UNESCO’s site says, “Empowering citizens, in particular youth, the elderly and marginalized groups with MIL competencies lets more voices to be heard, and thus enables digital inclusion and enhanced opportunities.”
Asking questions is at the heart of media literacy
Building people’s skills around critical thinking, creativity, and active citizenship, and making sure voices are heard, are values at the heart of the Right Question Institute’s (RQI’s) work.
A central component of media literacy is asking questions — about sources, messages, methods, impacts, facts, influences, and a host of other things.
NAMLE provides some helpful categories of questions to ask, noting “media literate people routinely ask questions in every category.”
We would also encourage educators to take another approach: Work with students so they can explore their own questions about media, and give them tools to do so.
You can get started here: Build Media Literacy Skills with the Question Formulation Technique.
Primary source analysis and media literacy
In a media landscape that changes and evolves so rapidly, the ability to ask your own questions about this central component of our society is fundamental to media literacy itself.
Cynthia Resor, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University, writing on the National Council for the Social Studies website, makes another important connection. “Media literacy, the ability to analyze the content and understand the purpose of media, is the modern label for age-old skills often called critical analysis,” she writes. Building students’ critical analysis skills around historical texts, images, and other primary sources goes hand-in-hand with media literacy.
As RQI’s grant announcement notes, “In a world where 500 million tweets are sent every day, students must learn to question and think critically about the information, sources, media, and narratives they encounter.”
Teaching students to ask their own questions about primary sources, historical or current, provides them with an important tool for navigating their own lives and being active, thoughtful citizens.
About the author: Chris Orchard is senior communications associate at the Right Question Institute. He is a former journalist (Patch.com, ABC News, several Boston-area newspapers) and has an M.A. in media and communications from City, University of London. The views here are his own. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.