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

CSWM is planning to increase the space for loading bays at the Comox Valley Waste Management Centre. Record file photo
CSWM plans increase to number of Comox Valley landfill bays

The expansion prompted in part by COVID-19 spacing requirements

Cumberland is demanding a major clean-up at a Derwent Avenue property. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Cumberland orders massive clean-up at downtown house

Uninsured vehicles, illegal structures have been subject of multiple complaints

Andrea Cupelli of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness told council the coalition’s needs assessment for non-market housing continues to grow throughout the region, as well as within Comox. . File photo
Coalition to end homelessness asking for additional funding from Comox

The coalition’s needs assessment for non-market housing continues to grow

Work on the first phase of renovations at the Village of Cumberland office is nearing completion. Record file photo
Cumberland office close to re-opening after reno

First phase with COVID measures should be done this month

Cumberland has long gone its own way when it comes to parks. Record file photo
Cumberland hesitant about regional park service

Community was left out of area park plan back fifty years ago

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Most Read