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California mandates media literacy for K-12 to teach kids how to spot fake news

Young student in computer science class
Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

As a former journalism teacher, one of the most impactful lessons I’d teach in my students’ first days involved sharing two side-by-side images, and then articles. They’d have to identify which was fake. Most of them couldn’t. It opened the door, and their minds, to the fact that their entire online realities might be riddles with misinformation, but that they could sleuth those out with a little detective training.

While Americans used to resist restricting false information in 2018, with just 39% agreeing with doing so, now in 2023 55% of Americans think the federal government should restrict it, Pew Research reports. Most of us could logically point to the controversial Trump election and the pandemic as key news events in between pushing for more restriction.

This fall, California became the first state to pass a bill requiring media literacy to incorporate recognizing fake news. This doesn’t have to be a separate class, but rather a lesson that teachers can integrate into English, science, math, and history, at all grade levels, USA Today reports.

The bill, introduced in February by Marc Berman, was signed by the governor on Oct. 13. The standards will be revised after Jan. 1 2024. Other states have varying levels of media literacy requirements, including New Jersey, ILlinois, and Delaware who also require it. Others are pushing to prioritize it more, USA Today shares.

Berman’s bill cited a study showing that 82% of middle schoolers couldn’t tell the difference between ads and stories, for example. He quotes another study showing that 96% of high school students didn’t know that the fossil fuel industry might influence the content and credibility of a website about climate change. With so many kids turning to the Internet for not only their information but also their self worth, it’s an essential conversation for teachers, but also parents, to have with kids.