Smartphone apps are shown, in Miami, on Oct. 29, 2019. Kids in Canada need greater access to up-to-date media literacy education to help them navigate what’s real and what’s fake or misleading online, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Wilfredo Lee

Smartphone apps are shown, in Miami, on Oct. 29, 2019. Kids in Canada need greater access to up-to-date media literacy education to help them navigate what’s real and what’s fake or misleading online, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Wilfredo Lee

Kids need media literacy education to match the rise of social networks, says experts

The COVID-19 pandemic is stoking fear and fuelling social and economic instability

Kids in Canada need greater access to up-to-date media literacy education to help them navigate what’s real and what’s fake or misleading online, experts say.

The rise of social media has led to the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, which is spread intentionally,said Dr. Ghayda Hassan, a clinical psychologist and the director of the Canadian Practitioners Network for the Prevention of Radicalization and Extremist Violence.

“Because of the speed of access to information, cognitively, people do not have time to process and to validate the kind of information they receive, so there are a lot of biases that interfere,” said Hassan, who is also a UNESCO co-chair for the prevention of radicalization.

“The fact that information is often on social media propagated by individuals that we may like, that we may trust or that we may directly know, gives them more credibility,” she said in an interview.

The COVID-19 pandemic is stoking fear and fuelling social and economic instability, creating conditions that intensify conspiratorial thinking, she said, adding she’s concerned that young people are particularly vulnerable.

Hassan is calling for stronger standards for how social media companies manage content on their platforms and a national strategy and mandatory curriculums covering digital media literacy in schools.

“It has to become obligatory material, just as you teach math to kids.”

School curriculums in each province and territory have included media literacy for nearly 20 years, but the material largely hasn’t been updated to reflect how media has changed since the 1990s, said Matthew Johnson, the director of education for the Ottawa-based non-profit MediaSmarts.

“The model today is not of a distribution chain, but of a network that is functionally infinite,” he said. “In theory, anybody on YouTube can have as large an audience as a TV news network or a world leader.”

Tools and signals that may have worked on stories from traditional print and broadcast media in the past, such as bylines or photo credits, may not be as useful for authenticating information on social media.

Some of those signals or markers of reliability, such as a professional-looking website, may even be counterproductive, said Johnson.

“That’s often extremely misleading,” he said. “The people who intentionally spread misinformation or disinformation know that we look at that, and so they will put a lot of effort into making something that looks good.”

The extent to which media literacy is actually taught varies by province and territory, said Johnson. For example, B.C. has what he called an excellent digital literacy curriculum, but it’s not mandatory. In Ontario, where media literacy is part of the evaluated language arts curriculum, he said it receives the least classroom time among other components.

“We don’t have any good recent data about what teachers are actually teaching and what students are actually learning at a national level.”

MediaSmarts offers parents, teachers and students tips for authenticating information, from fact-checking tools to finding and verifying original sources and checking others to assess the veracity and intent of a story.

It draws on key concepts in media and digital media literacy, including that digital media has unexpected audiences, that online experiences are shaped by the social networks and search engines themselves, and that what we do online can have real-world impacts.

Joyce Grant is a freelance journalist and the co-founder of TeachingKidsNews.com, a website she describes as a transparent source of news for kids that also helps them understand how credible news is made and how to spot content that’s deceptive or misleading.

“Fake news, as it gets better, starts to better mimic journalism. So, really, what it comes down to now is critical thinking,” said Grant, who began delivering in-class media literacy workshops around a decade ago.

She aims to help youth recognize echo chambers or silos on social media and break out of them by seeking out diverse sources of information.

The goal is also a healthy skepticism that asks, “What seems off about this? What is missing? Where are the points of view? Why did this person write this article or post?” said Grant.

“All of a sudden the light comes on, and then, yeah, they’re all over it … nobody wants to be fooled, right?”

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

The Calnash Ag Event Centre will be closed for competitions until at least Jan. 21, 2020. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
Outlook for Calnash in 2021 a waiting game

Ag event centre losing thousands during shutdown

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

The team that disconnected, lifted and loaded the old Bobtail Road bridge. (Photo submitted)
Bobtail Road bridge moves to new home in Meridian Beach

The 100-year-old bridge was moved Jan. 14

Kyla Gibson with her boyfriend Gavin Hardy. (Photo used with permission)
Sylvan Lake couple lose ‘fur babies’ to house fire

‘They were our world and nothing will ever replace them,’ Kyla Gibson said of her three pets

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

COVID update Jan. 19
Ponoka County COVID-19 numbers on steady decline

Numbers of active cases of COVID-19 have continued to drop in Ponoka… Continue reading

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

Most Read