Good Digital Parenting
Jan. 6, 2020

Recognizing What’s Real: Information Literacy as a Tool for Progress

Masters in Education Candidate, University of Massachusetts Boston

Great news!! Science shows chockolate prevents canser!

If you saw this headline in a post on social media, would you know it is likely not true? Seriously, take a minute to think about it. What signs may have tipped you off? Maybe you noticed the spelling errors, suggesting it wasn’t reviewed very closely. Or that “science shows” is a pretty vague claim. Or you realized that “Great news!” isn’t taking a neutral approach as journalists would. If you took the time to think critically about this headline and noticed any of these things, that means you are information literate. What is information literacy, you ask? It is basically being critical of what you read online, being able to choose the best information available, and locating quality sources.

It’s no secret that information has been an inflated currency for the past decade. That is, there is a lot of it and not all of it has value. The trouble is untrustworthy information can be tricky to spot against real information. Many times, it is designed to trick the reader and is not as obvious as the example I used earlier. Reasons for purposefully promoting fake information can range from increasing hits on websites or social media posts to enraging or isolating entire populations. Furthermore, letting false information spread or contributing to the spread can have tremendous impacts. An example of this is the spread of the rumor that vaccines can cause autism, which they do not. Say a mom of a young child sees an article with this false claim urging parents not to vaccinate their children. Other parents in her network see this article and other copycat articles that get shared many times. This mom regularly sees this message on her social media page. When it comes time to vaccinate her kids, she does the only thing that feels right based on the messages she has received and chooses not to vaccinate her child. Her child and many others whose parents received that message then contract measles, a nearly-eradicated disease that is now on the rise because of unchecked information spread via social media. It is clear that being able to recognize what’s real is critical for any Internet user, but I argue that it is especially crucial for the younger users. 

I have developed a short, but impactful online learning experience that helps learners define what information literacy is and recall useful strategies for identifying untrustworthy information. The module is aimed at middle school students, teachers, and parents because I think this is a crucial age to learn about literacy. While kids are starting their online lives at younger and younger ages, middle school is really when they are starting to understand the world better and can make choices that affect their lives in big ways. 

The module discusses tools such as the CRAP (currency, reliability, authority, purpose/point of view) test and the two-step method that are useful when evaluating information. There are guiding questions learners can ask themselves when faced with questionable information. And there are opportunities for learners to examine hypothetical posts and practice the skills they have learned. 

In general, I am of the mindset that information is power. But as usual, there can be too much of a good thing. There is so much information available that everyone should be equipped with the tools to determine what is real. While learning experiences like the one I have created help fill the toolbelt, there is still lots of work to be done. We all could stand to be a little more critical of what we read. Not judgemental or dubious, we just need to put a little thought into what we read before accepting it as fact.