In U.S., Some Schools Do Get Lessons in Social Media

By Diana Graber

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In France, School Lessons Ask: Which Twitter Post Should You Trust?” reads the title of a recent article in The New York Times. Since we now know that social media was widely used to spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential election, lessons like these sound like a good idea for U.S. schools too, don’t you think? 

That’s what we thought too.

Nearly ten years ago, when it became apparent to any adult not staring down at a smartphone that young people would be getting most of their information online, our small charter school in Southern California wanted students to be prepared. So we gave them lessons in digital citizenship and safety. But that, we quickly discovered, wasn’t nearly adequate preparation for a complex digital world. It was sort of like teaching kids to drive by only calling their attention to potential accidents. So we added lessons that would teach them how to deftly navigate the online world, including how to spot misinformation online.

Learning how to identify digital untruths is trickier than it seems. Like the students in France, ours look at social media posts to decipher which are real and which are fake (we make it fun by playing games like “Simon Says It’s Fake”). They also learn how to identify fake websites, detect bias in news stories, analyze images to see if they’ve been altered or framed in such a way that changes the truth. The point is, teaching students to be savvy interpreters of online information is a process. It’s a skill that can’t be learned overnight, and sadly, most schools today do not prioritize such lessons.

We eventually put our program online so that other schools could teach it too. Today, “Cyber Civics” is being taught to some lucky students in 42 U.S. states. But it only reaches a tiny percentage of all U.S students, which is a shame. Until social media companies step up to plate and address the misinformation that abounds on their platforms, citizens need to know how to view online information with a critical eye, which means we must teach students these skills. Our very democracy depends upon it. 

Diana Graber is co-founder of CyberWise and Founder of Cyber Civics. An expert on digital literacy, she is author of the forthcoming book “Raising Human in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology. For more about Diana and Cyber Civics, click here

Michael Bociurkiw