Media Literacy versus Fake News: Critical Thinking, Resilience and Civic Engagement.
Start date: 9 July 2019
Media Literacy versus Fake News: Critical Thinking, Resilience and Civic Engagement. ‘Truth was fake, fake was true. And that’s when the problem suddenly snapped into focus’ (Rusbridger, 2018). This is the essence of the disruptive age within which we, as journalism educators find ourselves, summarised by the former editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger in the opening pages of his recent treatise on the broken state of news and news consumption. Journalists are presented, as drinking in a different type of last chance saloon this time – yet, once again facing the challenge of restoring trust in themselves and the journalism they produce. However, this time it will take more than a new set of editorial codes to get journalism’s house ‘in order’, since the problem is largely external: the media is ‘the opposition’, disinformation is rife, virtually everything is PR (Pomerantsev, 2015).
This paper will consider whether media literacy can help journalists and journalism educators in tackling the age of disinformation through building resilience in young citizens. It posits that encouraging media literacy in news consuming publics, specifically young people, can facilitate a more engaged and critically aware civic society. It will share the initial findings of a project funded by the US Embassy in London, which brought together leading media literacy researchers from the United States and UK with teachers, librarians, journalists, digital media producers and young people to devise a toolkit for building resilience. These key stakeholders took part in a series of workshops in which they listened to young people and shared perspectives, working to a collective aim – a practical strategy for harnessing media literacy to develop young people’s understanding of and ability to withstand ‘fake news’, with a focus on case studies from both the UK and the US. Working collaboratively in this way, bringing together academic research, news providers and the new generation of media users, the project gives voice to young citizens to help us to help them in the age of disinformation and disruption.
The research team captured the raw material for an online, open access toolkit for media literacy resilience. After production of the toolkit, it will be shared with all the stakeholders for feedback. Following feedback and adaptation, the toolkit will be available online as an open access resource for use by journalists, journalism educators, media producers, teachers and academics, amongst others.
From the US, a recent report by The Data and Society Research Institute, responds to the rise of disinformation by arguing that stakeholders should: ‘a) develop a coherent understanding of the media environment, b) improve cross-disciplinary collaboration, c) leverage the current media crisis to consolidate stakeholders, d) prioritize the creation of a national media literacy evidence base, e) develop curricula for addressing action in addition to interpretation’ (Bulger and Davison, 2018).
In the UK, media literacy academics working with the Media Education Association, the professional association in the field, have called for a more ‘joined up’ approach to media literacy in the context of disinformation, saying that ’Issues of bias, truth and falsehood in news are well-established topics for media education. However, fake news is largely a manifestation of much broader problems, which apply to ‘real’ news as well. We need a more systematic conceptual approach; and while media literacy may provide part of the solution, we should beware of oversimplifying the problem, and underestimating the difficulty of the task. (Buckingham, 2019)
In line with this, the project applied the key conceptual and pedagogical approaches of critical media literacy (for example, representation) as well as involving other stakeholders in the media and in civil society. The projects objectives were tackled by: 1. using participative dialogic methods to develop new insights into the experiences of young UK citizens with regard to fake news and civic engagement with media, 2 applying the existing research findings from the academic experts to the insights from the young people,
3 working with teachers, trainers, librarians and young people to pilot and evaluate a toolkit for critical media literacy and resilience to disinformation,
4 leaving behind open access resources which can continue to be re-purposed beyond the life of the project,
5 enabling the voices of young citizens to inform policy planning and development with regard to media literacy and civic media.
It is hoped that the resilience toolkit will make a small but important contribution to tackling this complex problem, by supporting the development of curricula to help build resilience. This should, in turn equip the next generation of journalists and media consumers to engage in a dynamic way with the challenges of fake news, whilst helping those journalists currently immersed in the quest to re-imagine journalism practice and actively re-engage news consumers.