In our 21st century society, we use computers to access almost everything we do. Consider how many times that you’ve logged onto the internet today to shop, check bank account balances, use social networks and work remotely from home. But the problem for many is that they have little understanding of how their personal information can be hacked into by people attempting to rip them off, or mislead them for nefarious purposes.

It is a huge problem among young people. A study by the Stanford History Education Group of high school students revealed that 90 percent of students did not have a reasonable understanding of the digital sources they were accessing on the internet. The report’s authors said the results were “troubling,” especially considering this is a generation that has grown up with the internet and think they are digitally savvy. They may use the internet almost every waking hour, but that doesn’t mean they understand how they can be manipulated on the platforms they access.

It’s like giving them a credit card, but not explaining that interest costs are high, and they must pay the balance at some point. Meanwhile, the principle grows, especially when they are only making the minimum payment. That’s why generations ago we began teaching financial literacy in our schools. Now we should be teaching media literacy as soon as they begin using digital devices.

But this is not just a generational problem. Adults over 65 are especially vulnerable to Internet scams and “phishing” attempts aimed at getting into their financial accounts. So media literacy and financial literacy are connected. But this is not just about finances. When people read and share false information, it distorts the community conversation. Our democracy is based on an informed citizenry, and wide circulation of phony content on social media does not lead to good decision-making. Take any position you choose on a political issue, but make sure it is based on factual information.

At the Institute for Media and Public Trust, we have made media literacy an important part of our work. Our goal is to empower digital users to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the internet as they access information on a daily basis. We believe that is important to teach basic media literacy skills in the early grades as young people get comfortable using digital platforms.

Over the past three years, we have worked with the educators and political leaders, including the Fresno County Office of Education, and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, on strategies to improve media literacy in our schools.

The National Association for Media Literacy Education has this definition of media literacy: “Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication. In its simplest terms, media literacy builds upon the foundation of traditional literacy and offers new forms of reading and writing.”

The California Department of Education offers media literacy resources to educators with a goal of having young people learn the skills necessary to be a smart media consumer. But for the most part, teaching media literacy in California schools is left to teachers’ interest in the subject. We must do better with a coordinated effort that embeds media literacy into the entire K-12 curriculum.

That is a goal of the state Department of Education: “Understanding and teaching media literacy is the responsibility of all educators. Media literacy is best learned and practiced when integrated into the school’s curriculum. Classroom teachers are encouraged to work with teacher librarians in exploring this collection of resources to develop media-rich contextual learning activities.”

Our Media Institute at Fresno State was established in 2018 with this mission: “Promoting news literacy, identifying fake news and bridging the trust gap between news consumers and media.” We continue to work on these goals, and the Media Communications and Journalism Department at Fresno State is developing media literacy classes to meet the needs of our students, and to be a regional resource on media literacy.

We also are offering strategies to identify fake news on the internet. Click here to access our eight easy tips to avoid spreading false content on social media.

As we become a major voice in our region on media literacy, we want to invite you to participate in our programs and also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest information on media literacy. If you have questions or concerns, reach out to me via email at