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: experts

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?”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2020.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

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

Just Posted

City of Red Deer says its roundabouts have sharply reduced the number of injury collisions at a pair of busy intersections. Alberta Transportation wants to incorporate five roundabouts into plans to twin Highway 11 from Sylvan Lake to Rocky Mountain House. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Highway 11 roundabouts will increase safety based on Red Deer’s experience

Injury collisions sharply reduced at roundabout intersections in city

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

Alberta reported an additional 643 COVID-19 cases Friday. The province now has… Continue reading

About 110 students from Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools participated in March for Life rally in Edmonton May 9. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer high school has COVID-19 case

St. Joseph High School in Red Deer confirmed a positive COVID-19 case… Continue reading

Lacombe High School logo.
Two more COVID-19 cases at Lacombe Composite High School

Lacombe Composite High School confirmed two more positive COVID-19 cases at the… Continue reading

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

There are two confirmed COVID-19 cases at Red Deer College. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Central Albertans were promised a university

Central Albertans were promised a university

FILE - Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron sits for a portrait after receiving his COVID-19 vaccination at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, in this Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, file photo. Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats with stoic dignity during his pursuit of Babe Ruth but went on to break the career home run record in the pre-steroids era, died early Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. He was 86. The Atlanta Braves said Aaron died peacefully in his sleep. No cause of death was given. (AP Photo/Ron Harris, File)
Hank Aaron, baseball’s one-time home run king, dies at 86

Hank Aaron, baseball’s one-time home run king, dies at 86

Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson (55) passes the ball around Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Powell, Raptors regroup after blowing lead, beat Heat 101-81

Powell, Raptors regroup after blowing lead, beat Heat 101-81

Tavares scores winner on power play, Leafs beat Oilers 4-2

Tavares scores winner on power play, Leafs beat Oilers 4-2

David Shoemaker, chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, speaks during the Olympic Partnership kick off event at the Sobey's office in Mississauga, Ont. on Monday, October 7, 2019. Shoemaker says the IOC remains committed to staging the Summer Games in Tokyo this summer.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Canada’s Olympic athletes try to tune out reports six months from Games

Canada’s Olympic athletes try to tune out reports six months from Games

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley lifts the Voyageurs Cup after beating Vancouver Whitecaps 5-2 to win the Canadian Championship Final in Toronto on Wednesday, August 15, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Forge FC-Toronto FC Canadian Championship final to be played before April 6

Forge FC-Toronto FC Canadian Championship final to be played before April 6

Canada's Penny Oleksiak reacts after her heat of the women's 50m butterfly at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Friday, July 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lee Jin-man
Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse among six swimmers named early to Canadian Olympic team

Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse among six swimmers named early to Canadian Olympic team

Ontario skip Glenn Howard watches a rock as they play Newfoundland and Labrador in draw 15 action at the Tim Hortons Brier curling championship at Mile One Centre in St. John's on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Curling Canada has decided to use the national ranking system as its selection criteria for the final wild-card berths at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Hortons Brier.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canadian rankings to be used to determine final wild-card spots at Scotties and Brier

Canadian rankings to be used to determine final wild-card spots at Scotties and Brier

Most Read