With Elon Musk taking over Twitter and allowing an anything-goes policy on postings, the change has renewed the debate over the role that social media platforms should play in limiting the spread of misinformation on their sites. We believe that platforms should do all they can to keep their sites free of phony content, but the best remedy is having a savvy public with the tools to sort out the truth.

When we established the Institute for Media and Public Trust at Fresno State in 2018, one of our key goals was to empower the public with ability to identify credible content on the internet and to ignore — or at least not spread false content on their social media platforms. We have done this with media literacy programs in person and online, and by meeting with students in their classrooms around the region, and speaking before service clubs. We will take our media literacy message anywhere we can find an audience.

We also understand that we have a long way to go because the challenge is immense. Misinformation and disinformation are spread regularly either through ignorance or by bad guys seeking some advantage (often political) by misleading the public with phony content. We prefer to believe that truth will win out if the public develops the skills needed to identify the false stuff spread on the internet.

It would help if our schools required media literacy training from elementary school to high school. During classrooms discussions, my journalism students at Fresno State said that had little or no lessons on media literacy in their K-12 schools. These are students who grew up with the internet and had digital devices in their hands at early ages. They should be leaders in media literacy.

Research backs up the media literacy challenge we face in the United States. A recent Stanford University study found that students have trouble judging the credibility of information they find online.

“Regardless of the test, most students fared poorly, and some fared more poorly than others,” said Sam Wineburg, the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford, who co-authored the paper. researching media literacy. “It presents a concerning picture of American students’ ability to figure out who produced a given story, what their biases might have been, and whether the information is reliable. More troubling still is how easy it is for agents of disinformation to produce misleading—or even deliberately false stories—that carry the sheen of truth. Coupled with the instantaneous and global reach of today’s social media, it does not bode well for the future of information integrity.”

The results from this study also could have been from adults, whose media literacy skills aren’t much better.

In New Jersey, the legislature is working on a bill that would require media literacy to be taught at all grade levels. That’s a great start.

“If we can ensure that our K-12 students learn the critical thinking skills necessary in order to be able to identify credible sources of information, to ask questions, to create their own information, we would really be moving the needle on helping them become more civically responsible citizens,” said Olga Polites, the leader of the New Jersey chapter of the nonprofit advocacy group Media Literacy Now.

In California, there are media literacy standards and curriculum resources available to public schools, but media literacy education is not required. It should be. Media literacy in the 21st century is at the heart of all literacy.

As Fresno State’s Institute for Media and Public Trust’s work continues, we are reaching out to community partners to help us make the public aware of the need for media literacy. Our media literacy initiative will include a community workshop in February at the Woodward Park Regional Library. We also have other exciting related projects that we will reveal as soon as they reach a tipping point.

This media literacy effort is being spearheaded by a steering committee that includes Dr. Jesse Scaccia and Dr. Nancy Van Leuven, both professors in the Media, Communications and Journalism Department; MCJ student Lucca Lorenzi, and Jim Boren of the Media Institute.

If you are interested in our media literacy project, reach out to me at jboren@mail.fresnostate.edu.