Jan. 7, 2021
The threat of misinformation and deliberate disinformation has rapidly become a top priority to not just national security, but education policy. Yesterday’s shocking violence, in which rioters and insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol, was a direct result of a social media pipeline of disinformation, conspiracy theory, and incitements. Meanwhile, misinformation about COVID-19, whether it relates to mask-wearing or vaccines, offers another life-or-death threat to not just families, but our country’s future.
Now more than ever before, there is a red-hot exclamation point on the urgent need for a coordinated and cross-sector effort to build national resilience against these forces. We must give our education system the tools it needs to build new skills and habits of mind to help defend our youth and our nation.
Every day teachers and parents deal with how our youth can safely navigate the increasingly online world and learn to discern truth from lies. But with the stakes even higher, can our education system be strengthened enough to become a bulwark against the kind of disinformation and conspiracy theories that are currently coursing through online information streams?
Yes, it has been done in other nations, and it must too here in the US. But it will simply not happen on its own.
Today our teachers and school systems are ill-equipped and ill-served in this fight. It requires focused intention, investment, and the sharing of knowledge, techniques, tools, and research across fields of the learning sciences, civics, digital and media literacy, technology, cybersecurity, and national security.
Can our education system be strengthened enough to become a bulwark against the kind of disinformation and conspiracy theories that are currently coursing through online information streams?
That is the goal of a new partnership and series of projects launched by New America, Cyber Florida, and the Florida Center for Instructional Technology this month, in conjunction with the National Association for Media Literacy Education. The projects will focus on what we call Cyber Citizenship—a state in which all individuals online have the knowledge and skills to check and verify the information coming across their screens, critically inquire about and seek evidence about what they are consuming, and create and share media messages in ways that advance dialogue and civil discourse.
As stated in a press release about the launch: “the United States has fallen behind its peers in this aspect of education, harming not just individual students, but overall societal resilience against online dangers. The challenge is made even more difficult by a disconnection between practitioners and the research and policy communities that work on various aspects of the topic, while the teaching tools themselves are not gathered for easy and ready use by educators.”
The program will begin by identifying and inviting relevant educators, policymakers and subject matter experts to participate in a Cyber Citizenship Working Group. Activities to come in the next few months include the publication of a white paper on building new skills, cognitive responses and behaviors, and tools. Also to be developed and launched is a Cyber Citizenship Portal, a new searchable database of instructional materials such as existing and proposed syllabi, student exercises and other classroom learning materials, that can be sorted and searched by grade level, efficacy, affordability and accessibility. To be available through both the Cyber Florida and New America websites, the portal will provide educators, in Florida and across the nation, ready access to needed resources and a new hub for a collaborative community dedicated to aiding our youth in navigating the online world safely and securely. We hope it will also become part of a larger national movement, enabling a new community of practice and tools around aiding educators.
The full press release describes more, noting how it also brings together work of people working across the fields of education and national security. We hope you too will join in this important effort. For updates, subscribe to EdCentral (the Education Policy Program newsletter at New America) and check in on social media feeds (@NewAmericaEd, @PeterWSinger, @LisaGuernsey ) throughout the year.