Faltering media literacy spans wider than one generation

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Our deteriorating ability to read the news is more than a generational shortcoming — it’s worth a larger and closer look at how we all evaluate information, millennial or not.

A Stanford University study found that approximately 82 per cent of young teens can’t differentiate between sponsored content and real news. The study included 7,804 students from middle school through college.

While the study itself is important, its focus on a younger crowd may be influenced by the popular image of millennials as clueless and unaware. It’s not uncommon for readers of all ages to share clickbait articles and non-credible sources on social media. 

A study with a wider demographic span may find that the issue of information literacy is bigger than one generation.

There’s an increasingly blurry line between real news and news disguised as real, but while this is the symptom, the decline of the news industry may be the sickness. 

When mainstream news outlets are pushed into a corner financially, they often find new ways to make money through sponsorship and native advertising. 

Fake news can be circulated so easily on Facebook and Twitter it becomes difficult to recognize the difference, but although it may be tempting to solve this problem by regulating what’s published online, censorship isn’t the answer.  

Judging what’s biased is also inherently biased — it’s impossible to monitor where the partiality starts or ends.

So the responsibility falls on middle schools and high schools to do more to teach students how to read for themselves. 

A class about research skills has the potential to teach a lot more than just a fear of Wikipedia. 

A skill that allows people to distinguish fact from fiction can shape the way future generations assess information and way these generations formulate their world views. 

Teaching students the skills to distinguish between an advertisement and a credible news source on their Facebook timelines may seem non-academic, but it can have a lasting impact. 

The problem isn’t only among young people, but maybe the solution to it has to be.  

Journal Editorial Board 

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