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

Robert Dale Stanton of Clinton was last heard from on Jan. 9, and police are asking for the public’s assistance in locating him. (Photo credit: RCMP)
Police ask for help in locating missing Clinton man

Robert Dale Stanton was last heard from on Jan. 9 and is believed to be in the Clinton/70 Mile area

Williams Lake is beginning to freeze over and with temperatures expected to remain below zero beginning Tuesday evening the ice may get thick enough for residents to recreate. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake could freeze enough for outdoor recreation activities

Overnight lows anticipated to dip below -13C beginning Wednesday

From the peak of Mica Mountain in the scenic Cariboo Mountain Range, which has a view of the distant mountains in the Clearwater area, including Raft and Trophy mountains.
Teen snowmobiler says South Cariboo SAR ‘real heroes’

Youth built a snow cave after getting separated from his friends, family

Laura Ball (from left), Simone Groundwater and Steve Carpenter curling during the final bonspiel of the 2020 season, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. With uncertainty regarding what the future holds surrounding gatherings and organized sporting events, the Williams Lake Curling Club has made the decision to cancel the rest of its 2020/21 season. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake Curling Club ends season amid pandemic uncertainty

WLCC will now look to the resumption of curling in the fall

B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth (Black Press files)
B.C. watchdog says mentally ill children and youth retraumatized in hospital

The number of children held under the Mental Health Act has increased an alarming 162 per cent in past decade

A new video from NCCIH and BC Northern Health titled ‘Healing in Pandemic Times: Indigenous Peoples, Stigma and COVID-19’ was animated by Joanne Gervais. (Photo Provided By: NCCIH Archives)
VIDEO: Stigma against Indigenous people is a ‘social sickness’

A new short animated video is aiming to educate the public on the stigmatization

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

A pinniped was attacked by an unseen predator off the shores of Dallas Road Monday night. (Courtesy of Steffani Cameron)
VIDEO: Seal hunting, not being hunted in video shot off Victoria waterfront

Victoria woman captures footage of pinniped activity off Dallas Road

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

The British Columbia Hotel Association (BCHA) sent out a sharply worded release late last week, in which it noted that the Tourism Industry Association of BC recently obtained a ‘legal opinion’ on the matter (Alex Passini photo)
Hotel associations push back against any potential ban on inter-provincial, non-essential travel restrictions

B.C. Premier John Horgan is seeking legal advice on banning non-essential travel

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)
COVID rapid tests in long-term care key during vaccine rollout: B.C. care providers

‘Getting kits into the hands of care providers should be a top priority,’ says former Health Minister

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. turns to second doses of COVID-19 vaccine as supplies slow

Pfizer shipments down until February, to be made up in March

B.C.’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training announced funding to train community mental health workers at four B.C. post-secondary institutions. (Stock photo)
B.C. funding training of mental health workers at four post-secondary institutions

Provincial government says pandemic has intensified need for mental health supports

Most Read