November 17, 2023

California signs bill that will require lessons about online misinformation for all in-state K-12 schools

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to discuss this important topic with your students in class, if you feel it is appropriate.

In the #WinAtSocial Find Your Influencers lesson, Evaluating news sources and information in our social media feeds, 73% of 9th graders said that social media is the most popular source for news. While social media is a powerful tool for disseminating information quickly, 59% of Americans who get news on social media say they expect the news they see to be largely inaccurate. To prevent students from trusting misinformation they find on social media, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Assembly Bill 873, mandating the inclusion of media literacy skills in the K-12 curriculum

This action by the California government takes a significant step to empower K-12 students to find reliable, positive influencers online. For educators, this move holds profound significance, recognizing the critical need for students to distinguish between reliable news sources and misinformation.

As educators, why should we care about media literacy? The answer lies in the undeniable influence media has on shaping students. In an era where distrust in traditional news sources is on the rise, students increasingly turn to social media for information. A 2022 Pew Research Center survey revealed that those under 30 are nearly as likely to trust information on social media as they are from national news outlets. With only 7% of adults expressing a great deal of trust in the media, the need for social media education is more pressing than ever. So, why is it important that we teach students to avoid misinformation and not to share news they aren’t sure is factual? Let’s dive in.

The impact on students and the importance of avoiding misinformation

Sharing false information doesn’t just have consequences online, such as getting your post removed or your account suspended. Spreading misinformation can have real-world consequences as well. Assemblymember Marc Berman, the sponsor of Assembly Bill 873, highlights the real-world implications of spreading false information, from influencing elections to spreading false conspiracy theories. In one incident, a man who has a history of spreading misinformation online claimed Matthew Benassi, a Department of the Air Force civilian who works at the Pentagon, and his wife were conspirators in a twisted Deep State plot to spread the coronavirus to China. This information went viral on social media. The Benassi family reported they were “defamed, harassed, and threatened” in person and online for months. 

The incident with the Benassi family highlights the consequences of believing and spreading misinformation online. For students who often use social media as a news source, it’s essential that they have the skills to vet the content they see online and not share information that isn’t proven to be true. 

By equipping students with media literacy, we can foster a generation that reflects on the content they consume, evaluate its reliability, and understand the role of media in a democracy. It’s not just about recognizing fake news; it’s about cultivating critical thinking skills and shaping a responsible generation of students.

It’s important that educators huddle with students on ways to avoid misinformation online so that they don’t hurt the reputation of themselves or others. With false information constantly circulating on social media, empowering students to find reputable influences and carefully analyze information online protects them from the consequences of spreading misinformation and helps them build critical thinking and media literacy skills through learning how to evaluate sources properly.

TSI’s Take

In embracing social media literacy education, educators can address the immediate challenge of misinformation and nurture responsible students who are empowered to make high-character decisions online. Platforms like #WinAtSocial, a web-based platform with engaging lessons to help students navigate social media and tech, and AdFontes, a website with an interactive chart to help students identify the bias and reliability of popular news sources, are great resources to share with your students to help them navigate misinformation, as they help students find reliable sources and positive influencers online.

To empower students to find positive influencers on social media and credible news sources, you can share these tips with your students:

  • Encourage students to avoid following accounts that share proven misinformation: Remind students to evaluate and fact-check the content of their favorite influencers to make sure what they are sharing is true (this can be done with a quick Google search to find the content from a reliable source). If that user repeatedly shares false information, let students know they should unfollow.
  • Huddle with students on the consequences of sharing misinformation: The Benassi family is a great example of how sharing misinformation can be harmful, but there are several other stories. Ask students if they’ve seen an incident of widespread false information and what happened as a result.
  • Empower students to think before they act: Whether it’s posting, commenting on a post, or resharing, encourage students to think critically about the information they share online. Students shouldn’t share information that negatively reflects themselves, promotes hate, or could be hurtful to someone else.

You can empower students to combat misinformation through relevant, turnkey lessons with #WinAtSocial. We share these tips, and so much more in our 9th Grade #WinAtSocial Find Your Influencer lesson: Evaluating news sources and misinformation in our social media feeds. Want to run this lesson? Request a demo for #WinAtSocial today.

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question
Huddle with your students
Social media has evolved into a popular place for students to get their news. However, with so much content circulating on the internet, it’s important that we make sure the information we read is actually factual. When evaluating the content you see online, what are some of the steps you take to validate information? Have you ever seen information online and shared it before knowing if it was true? 

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in understanding student experiences and the creator of #WinAtSocial, a gamified, online learning platform that equips students, educators, and families to navigate social experiences — online and offline — in healthy ways. Our unique, student-respected approach incorporates topics like social media, technology use, and current events that have a significant impact on student well-being. Lessons teach life skills for the modern day to inspire high-character decisions that support the health, happiness, and future success of students while capturing data that provides insights to school leaders to inform school policy and communications and enable high-impact teaching and a healthy learning environment. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities.