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Opinion: It’s time for Missouri to educate our children on how to navigate this plugged in world

   

The digital age has made it easy for anyone to create media. We don’t always know who created it, why they made it, and whether it’s credible. Nonetheless, the ability to critically consume and evaluate all of these messages is a 21st Century survival skill. All media messages share one thing: Someone created them, and they were created for a reason. Understanding that reason is the basis of media literacy.

The consumption of media via listening, reading, clicking, and viewing occupy us as never before. Children today consume a relentless barrage of information through broadcast television, cable television, streaming, films, radio, music, text messages, memes, viral videos, the internet, social media, news programs, books, magazines, banner ads, video games, and advertising.

By the time a child reaches puberty they will be exposed to more information than their grandparents received during their entire lifetime.

In a new study by Stanford University, researchers described a student’s ability to access information sources as “dismaying,” “bleak,” AND “[a] threat to our democracy.”

The acceleration of media bombardment started in 2007 with the introduction of the first smartphone. Never before had information been available at your fingertips 24/7. With the increased access came the development of information sources and social media. Electronic media lacks traditional journalistic standards and for the most part thrives on getting the story first with emphasis on sensationalism.

It is not surprising that students struggle to distinguish legitimate sources from unreliable ones, articles from advertising, and misleading information from factual information because they haven’t learned how to make these distinctions.

Without question, not all information produced today is accurate, but technology has made it very difficult to identify information that is meaningful, valid, or true. The competitive nature of the 24-hour news cycle has put pressure on news outlets to get the story first. This often leads to incomplete information being reported as facts. As more information emerges and proves the first reporting to be false, the original story lives-on as “facts” on the internet and in many people’s minds. How many times has the bombshell story of the day turned out to be what is now called, “A Nothing Burger?”

Social media sites, while excellent at connecting people, make it easy to create and share misleading information while keyboard warriors pontificate their views on almost every subject. Worse yet, the social media sites lead to self-segregation: We congregate with people who think, feel, believe, and vote the way that we do. This breakdown of civility divides us and is destructive.

Bullying of children via social media is a growing problem that will likely get worse. We have seen how destructive this can be by the increased number of juvenile suicides. Social media bullying can cause depression and that may lead to violent acts. Student relationships with media change when they understand how it all works. We owe it to Missouri’s children to help them understand the role they play in the economic structure of it all, which could hopefully alter social media’s effects on their current levels of anxiety and depression.

Washington is debating how to limit the influence of media on our children, and I believe this is a dead-end without trampling on the First Amendment. The influence of media on our children cannot be legislated, but we can better prepare our children on how to process information. The digital media world is not going away so we must teach our children how to sort through the flood of information by teaching them how to evaluate messages for authenticity, validity, and meaning. Media literacy education curriculum should be developed to teach the process of verifying and evaluating information. It must be process-based and not content-based as this training must be designed to allow everyone to exercise their own judgments as to the validity of the information they are exposed to.

We have seen the benefits of instant information, and we have witnessed the negative effects it has caused. It’s time for Missouri to educate our children on how to navigate this plugged-in world. HB 1402 will put us on a path to do just that!