Helping Your Family Combat Digital Misinformation

Helping Your Family Combat Digital Misinformation

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that our ability to think critically about the information we encounter online is now a fundamental life skill we need to learn, practice, and pass on to our offspring. But the actual task of teaching kids how to discern real and fabricated information online these days is easier said than done.

How did the truth get so hard to pin down? In the documentary The Social Dilemma, the answer to that question comes down to two things: Our growing reliance on social media for both human connection and information and the data-based algorithms social networks use to mine and sell data, nurture device dependence, and influence our behavior.

2019 Pew Study reveals that 55 percent of US adults get their news from social media either “often” or “sometimes.” A July 2020 Pew Study shows that people who rely on social media for news are less likely to get the facts right about the coronavirus and politics and more likely to hear some unproven claims.

The power of algorithms to deliver customized, manipulative content to a person’s screen is alarming, says Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, who is featured in The Social Dilemma, adding, “Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people.”

Fighting Back

On the heels of the recent election, Media Literacy skills will make a difference as false reports are likely to surface in our social feeds in the foreseeable future. For many, the willpower to shut down their social feeds altogether isn’t a viable option. So how do we wade through the veiled forms of manipulation and misinformation taking place all around us online?

One approach is to make a personal commitment to stay alert, slow down, and carefully vet the content you consume, create, or share.

Media Literacy 

One thing you might consider is making 2021 the year your family masters Media Literacy, a topic we’ve written extensively about on this blog. In short, Media Literacy is the ability to identify different types of content and understand the messages each is sending. Content includes texts, social media memes or posts, videos, television, movies, video games, music, and various other digital content. Reminder: Someone creates each piece of content and that person, group, or company has an agenda or message.

Grow Your Family’s Media Literacy Muscle

  • Watch: The Social Dilemma is a must-see for families. The Netflix film blends documentary investigation and narrative drama to explain the hidden maneuvers behind social media and search platforms. Watch it. Talk about it. Do social media wiser in 2021.
  • Go Deeper: The Social Dilemma refers to books written by the people interviewed and includes collateral video clips. Medium put together this great list of supporting quotes and resources from the film.
  • Read: Stories are powerful ways to teach kids of any age how to process the digital world around them. The Media Literacy thought leaders at Cyberwise recently created this list of children’s books designed to teach kids how to think critically and become informed consumers of online media.
  • Fact-check. Even kids have a responsibility to share truthful content online. Discuss how to fact check articles and rumors before sharing. Here are a few resources:
  • PolitiFact from the Poynter Institute
  •  AP News Fact Check from the Associated Press
  •  Reuters Fact Check from Reuters News
  • Discuss: Talk about the practical ways of challenging each piece of content by asking:

Do I understand all the points of view of this story?

What do I think about this topic or idea?

Am I overly emotional and eager to share this?

Am I being manipulated by this content?

What if I’m wrong?

Lastly, consume all media with thoughtful intention — avoid mindless scrolling and liking. A few other practical ways to fight back against the algorithms we drew from The Social Dilemma: Don’t click on video or content recommendations. Fight back against algorithms by choosing your content. Uninstall social media apps that are not useful and waste your time. Turn off notifications or any other alert that interferes with living life. If an issue has you angry or emotional, stop, breathe, and research the facts before sharing.


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