We are in the Digital Age where an enormous amount of information is generated daily. Keeping track of this information overload can be unnerving for many people. More daunting than trying to play catch-up with the amount of information being generated and the speed with which they are shared is the task of determining their authenticity.
The skills needed to judge the reliability and credibility of information is inadequate. Though many institutions, civil society organisations and media houses are working to spread the skills needed to sift through the barrage of information they come across daily to separate facts from hoaxes, the News Literacy Project (NLP), a United States based non-profit organisation, pays attention to grooming the next generation of fact-checkers.
The NLP says its goal is to “teach students how to know what to believe in the digital age.” The organisation says it does this by empowering “educators to teach students the skills they need to become smart, active consumers of news and information and engaged, informed participants in… democracy.”
Speaking with a group of international journalists at the Foreign Press Center, in Washington DC, Alan Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the founder of the NLP, reiterated the deluge of information in the Digital Age and the danger lurking therein.
“Today’s information landscape is by far, the most challenging in human history. In fact, the amount of information on the planet doubles every two years. Enormous amount of information, videos and images are being created all the time. Every minute 4.3 million videos are viewed on YouTube. Eighteen million text messages are shared, and 375,000 apps are downloaded,” he said.
“Amidst all these traffic, there is no barrier of entry to those who seek to mislead, deceive or exploit. The rise in social media has dramatically increased the speed and volume of all information as well as the amount of opinion versus facts.”
Mr Miller says as the proliferation of misinformation reaches unprecedented height, conversely, the number of professional journalists, who are traditionally looked upon to sift the through misinformation and present the people with fact, is declining at a worrying rate in the U.S. and other places.
He says the deluge of disinformation and the declining number of professionals to check it “is one of the greatest challenges of our time”. The award-winning journalist compared it with global public health crisis.
He therefore posited that the way to beat the scourge of disinformation was to “inoculate future generations from becoming infected” through “concerted educational effort.”
Citing a 2016 research by the Stanford History Group which found that students are easily duped and ill-equipped to successfully navigate online images and information, Mr Miller said the reason people are susceptible to disinformation is because, the American educational system, as is educational systems in many parts of the world, has failed “to adapt to brave new digital world where students live and learn. Neither media literacy nor news literacy are widely taught in the country’s public schools.”
Quoting a report by the Rand Corporation, Truth Decay, Mr Miller said media literacy is offered the short end of the stick in the competing demands in the educational system.
“The study said that students need exactly this type of knowledge and skills to effectively evaluate information sources, identify biases, and separate facts from opinions and falsehood.
“The gap between the information system and the training provided for students, drives and perpetuate truth decay by contributing to the creation of an electorate that is susceptible to consuming and disseminating disinformation, misinformation and information that blur the line between fact and opinion.”
He said he founded the News Literacy Project more than a decade ago to plug the gap of news and media literary in the American educational system.
“In the process, I had to start a new field of study and a national movement that has gained considerable momentum particularly in the past two years. You might say were the anecdote to fake news long before the term gained such currency.
“We work with teachers in middle school and high school levels. We provide them with resources to teach students that all information were not created equal, and to give them the appreciation of the word of the first amendment and a free press in a democracy. We want to give these students what news to trust, share and act on as students, consumers and citizens,” he said.
Mr Miller said the NLP does its news literacy advocacy through a number of programmes and notable among them are the Checkology virtual classroom, a set of engaging and interactive lessons which help “educators equip their students with the tools to evaluate and interpret the news and to learn how to decide what news and information to trust, share and act on.”
“Checkology is a cutting-edge online platform that provides real world authentic lessons from prominent journalist and other professional in digital media that act as virtual teachers or guides through the lessons,” he said.
Mr Miller said the Checkology programme is rapidly attaining global fame with educators from 97 countries using it to teach news literacy to their students.
Other tools the NLP uses to teach news literacy include “NewsLitCamp” which offers educators first-hand introduction to news literacy, along with tools and resources they can use in their classrooms and the opportunity to connect directly with journalists in their communities.
The NLP also publishes a weekly newsletter called the Sift, which it uses to share tips and lessons on news literacy to educators and other subscribers at no cost.