Digital Literacy

You are here

Keeping a Focus on Media Literacy

Teachers and parents are taking steps to help kids recognize "fake" news online, but in reality, consumers of all ages can have trouble distinguishing between accurate and biased media. NewsGuard co-founder Steven Brill suggests teachers and parents take steps to educate kids on spotting informative news and reminds everyone that a site’s suffix, such as versus, is not a safeguard against bad information. While some of those sites might appear reliable, such as those that are “charity organizations”, others have missions. These days many sites are funded by political action committees and for example, they write wonderful puff pieces about whoever the local state representative is, or congressman that they’re backing. Then they write negative pieces about their opponent. That can create real issues for kids (and others) doing research and thinking that they are looking at unbiased sources with a suffix.

TikTok Fights Misinformation

TikTok, the video sharing app, takes a lot of heat for falsehoods and propaganda that often shows up in user-created content. To help rehabilitate its image, TikTok has partnered with the National Association for Media Literacy Education to launch a "Be Informed" campaign that features top influencers in humorous infomercial-style videos educating users about how to identify misinformation. The five videos cover topics including "Fact vs. Opinion," "Question the Source" and "When to Share vs. When to Report."

The Dangers of Domestic Disinformation

Here are some factoids that might highlight the ballooning issue of disinformation for you: Facebook took down 3 billion fake accounts in 2019. 3 billion. One study suggested that 15% of Twitter’s 330 million monthly users are bots. Bots have a massive multiplier effect on disinformation because they are far more prolific than humans, tweeting hundreds of times a day. Some studies estimate that more than 60% of Trump’s 80+ million followers are bots.

People often talk about how we should be worried about Russian trolls on social media sites and Twitter, but the fact is that it is domestic disinformation that is running rampant. Americans are intentionally feeding other Americans with wrong or factually inaccurate information about Covid-19, the George Floyd demonstrations and other conspiracy theories, and we are going to see much more as the election approaches.

As a parent, what can you do to help your kids navigate all of this “fake news”? First we need to recognize that many conspiracy theories are very seductive. We often want to go along with that particular explanation because it goes along with our own (sometimes hidden) prejudices and biases. Second, you and your kids need to learn to vet information and not to be satisfied with what comes up as one of the first few entries in a web search. Be prepared to search and read different viewpoints on a topic to get at the facts.

Learning to Code Freebies

This is a strange time in your kids' lives. Their schools closed months ago, their summer plans have been drastically changed, and they can't even visit their friends in person. But they are not alone in this experience. In 1665, Sir Isaac Newton was sent home from Cambridge due to the bubonic plague. While in quarantine, Newton made a number of important discoveries that shaped his life and career.

To help inspire your kids at home, Vernier Software & Technology, an educational company best known for their science software and hardware products that allow students to collect and analyze data in the classroom, has put together an activity that encourages kids to tell the story of Newton’s “year of wonders” through code. Kids can use the Scratch coding app to bring Newton’s story alive. Once they’ve finished telling Newton’s story, they can also use Scratch to code their own story. Storytelling empowers us; challenge kids to use code to share their stories and try out the other activities available for free on the site, including a reading about Newton’s cure for the plague that involves “toad vomit.”

Understanding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

It will be very interesting to see what effect the new Executive Order that President Trump signed recently targeting Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act has on cyberbullying and misinformation online. While you may have never heard of this section of the law, it was created almost 30 years ago to protect Internet platforms from liability for many of the things third parties say or do on them. But now it’s under threat by President Trump, who hopes to use this act to fight back against the social media platforms he believes are unfairly censoring him and other conservative voices. Some critics say he is trying to bully these platforms into letting him post anything he wants without correction or reprimand, even when he has broken a site’s rules about posting bullying comments or questionable information.

In a nutshell, Section 230 says that Internet platforms that host third-party content (for example, tweets on Twitter, posts on Facebook, photos on Instagram, reviews on Yelp, or a news outlet’s reader comments) are not liable for what those third parties post (with a few exceptions). For instance, if a Yelp reviewer were to post something defamatory about a business, the business could sue the reviewer for libel, but it couldn’t sue Yelp. Without Section 230’s protections, the Internet as we know it today would not exist. If the law were taken away, many websites driven by user-generated content would likely be shut down. As Senator Ron Wyden, one of the authors of the Section 230 says about it, the law is both a sword and a shield for platforms: They’re shielded from liability for user content, and they have a sword to moderate it as they see fit.

That doesn’t mean Section 230 is perfect. Some argue that it gives platforms too little accountability, allowing some of the worst parts of the internet — think cyberbullying that parents or schools struggle to have removed or misinformation that stays online for all to see with little recourse— to flourish along with the best. Simply put, Internet platforms have been happy to use the shield to protect themselves from lawsuits, but they’ve largely ignored the sword to moderate the bad stuff their users upload. It is also important to remember that the cyberbullying that occurs is less than one tenth of one percent of all the traffic online, but it still is important for these sites to acknowledge their role and do more about it.

All that said, this protection has allowed the Internet to thrive. Think about it: Websites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have millions and even billions of users. If these platforms had to monitor and approve every single thing every user posted, they simply wouldn’t be able to exist. No website or platform can moderate at such an incredible scale, and no one wants to open themselves up to the legal liability of doing so. But if that free flow of information and creativity goes away, our online world will be very different.

So where do we stand? While the executive order sounds strict ( and a little frightening with the government making “watch lists” of people who post or support “certain kinds” of content) , legal experts don’t seem to think much — or even any — of it can be backed up, citing First Amendment concerns. It’s also unclear whether or not the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to regulate Section 230 in this way, or if the president can change the scope of a law without any congressional approval.

Remote Learning Success: Survey Says Correlation to Family Income

Students from wealthier families are more likely to be engaging in remote instruction, according to a survey from the advocacy group ParentsTogether. Data shows that 83% of students from families earning more than $100,000 annually were participating in distance learning daily -- compared with 4 in 10 of the country's students from the poorest families accessing it about once a week or less. The survey also found big gaps reported by families whose children are in special education.

Scientific Image Sleuth Works Magic

You’ve most likely had the discussion with your children not to believe everything they read on the Internet, and especially with the digital world that we are in, that you cannot believe everything you see. Image manipulation has become commonplace and has become increasingly common in scientific research as well, with images duplicated, manipulated and/or "borrowed" from other data sets. Elisabeth Bik has become one of the world's preeminent image sleuths because of her amazing ability to spot fraudulent images that accompany scientific research. A recent article talks about her unique skill set, how she got into the field, and how her sleuthing capabilities have become so prized. It may make you think that we all need to pay more attention to what we see online. Could you be an image sleuth? The article includes an interactive test you can take to see if you can spot 5 duplicated images.

Facebook Releases New Digital Literacy Resources for Parents and Kids

With school closures and COVID-19 lockdowns, kids are spending a lot more time online, increasing the risk of them stumbling into dark corners of the Web. Add to this the fact that many parents are also now working from home, and unable to supervise what their children are doing, and the problem grows exponentially. In order to help, Facebook has recently launched a new education resource for kids, parents and educators that aims to "provide lessons and resources to help young people develop the competencies and skills they need to more safely navigate the Internet". The new initiative - called simply 'Get Digital' - includes several dedicated education areas, each of which features a video overview, and links to a range of tools and resources to help improve digital literacy.

Kids, Technology and Staying at Home

Technology is a lifeline for many during the stay at home orders of the COVID-19 outbreak. It is allowing people to work and go to school remotely, stay entertained, and instantly check in with those we care about. It is also makes it possible for scientists to look at real time data about outbreaks and model everything from best to worst case scenarios.

In addition, a vast array of technology resources for keeping kids busy at home are being offered online, but a few words of caution. While there are lots of resources coming from vetted sources, it is still important to make sure you know what your children are viewing and to check in with them on a regular basis. Check out the Common Sense Media site for free reviews and ratings of movies, TV shows, apps and games. While you may have to relax your screen time restrictions to get through your “work from home” day, it is important to keep their day as varied as possible. You can break up those screen time binges with a few minutes outside, a clean up the house project (there are lots of great ideas for making cleaning fun for kids), a craft project, cooking, baking, 15 minutes of family exercises, playing a board or card game, a walk with the dog, or anything that does not involve looking at a screen.

Now is also a great time to help your elementary and older kids use technology in a more engaging way. Instead of having screen time where they are strict consumers of content, try introducing projects where they use the technology in creative ways. For younger kids, look for printables that they can use to make things such as masks, puppets, model buildings, and so much more. There are also loads of inexpensive or free apps for phones and laptops for activities such as composing music or making and editing short movies, comic strips or stop action snippets. Some other ideas:


  • Make Your Own Game: Ask them to make up a board game on a subject of interest to them and have them find, resize and use graphics from online sources.
  • Travel Research: Have them to do some research on places to consider for your next family trip. You could even have them create their own travel brochure.
  • Make a Photo Book: Put together a family cookbook complete with pictures or create a photo album of a notable day, sports team they were on, or trip.
  • Make Something Special for Somone: Got birthdays or other special occasions coming up? Have your kids create magazine covers featuring a picture of the person being celebrated and come up with “featured” article tag lines to describe the person or what they do.
  • “Visit” Museums, Zoos or Aquariums: Start by searching for your local museum, zoo or aquarium online for lessons and supplemental materials as they may have things specific to your state’s science curriculum. On the national level, the Smithsonian has science, art history and culture activities for kids of all ages. For a cross section look at what museums all over the world feature try the link  “Cool Online Museums for Curious Kids.”
  • Virtual Art Lessons: Looking for something to break up the day? Do a search for Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems from The Kennedy Center. Or the Art for Kids Hub


In short, look for activities where kids use the technology to create and are not just being entertained by staring at a screen. In addition, here are some categories of resources, with specific examples, you may want to look at just for fun or to supplement online lessons your children are doing.


Lastly, if you are struggling to balance work and life with taking care of your kids at home, give yourself some grace and remember there is a distinction between “working from home” and continuing to do your job at home during a crisis.

Preparing Kids for Jobs That Do Not Exist

Sixty-five percent of children who entered primary school in 2017 will one day hold jobs that do not currently exist, according to a World Economic Forum report. Heather McGowan, a future work strategist, says that the key to preparing children for those jobs lies in training them to learn for themselves rather than for transferal of knowledge. It is also important to teach children how to adapt to changes as the work force and job functions will be continuously changing as new technologies are developed.