Tolerance
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Teaching Tolerance’s best resources of 2017

Digital and Civic Literacy Skills
Learning the Landscape of Digital Literacy

Beyond Tolerance
How Can Parents Teach Beyond Tolerance?
Teach Tolerance
"They Shot Him, Papa!": Finding Smarter Ways to Talk to Kids About Diversity
Teaching Tolerance to Children 7 to 10
University of Michigan launches $16,000 Inclusive Language Campaign
Words Hurt, Words Heal
Racial slurs
2012 District 17C Multicultural Make-up
Don't laugh at me
Merchandise - Single card - $1.00 includes shipping, Positive Parenting Pack (all 34 cards) - $13.00 plus shipping

Teaching Tolerance’s best resources of 2017


With year’s end come reflections and resolutions—a promise to learn from the past and look forward to a brighter future. A good practice in pedagogy and a good practice in life.

In 2017, Teaching Tolerance worked to meet educators wherever they were, offering resources and guidance on timely, critical challenges. Educators utilized our revamped grants program to bring innovative project ideas to life. They used our new Digital Literacy Framework to compensate for a lack of resources and time in helping their students become responsible online citizens. They combated outside hostility aimed at immigrants and first-generation citizens by informing their lessons with our updated guide for teaching English language learners and resources we offered to support DREAMers. With hate incidents in school on the rise, educators improved their school climates and responded to bias in their hallways using the processes outlined in our school climate package.

And when an open display of bigotry turned to tragedy in Charlottesville, educators found guidance to confidently discuss it with their students.

The following articles, magazine features and PD resources resonated most with the TT community in 2017. And they all shared a common mission: to not just look back at what happened, but to look toward what’s possible. We hope reflecting on our best and most-used resources of 2017 will help steel your resolve as you work for a better—and more equitable—tomorrow.

Articles

Discussing #TakeAKnee in Class

When the spotlight returned to the act of kneeling during the national anthem, Teaching Tolerance offered guidance on discussing the issue in the classroom.

Ten Myths About Immigration—Updated!

Educators and students need to understand the facts about immigration and immigrants in the United States now more than ever. This can help.

What Is Cinco de Mayo?

Mexican culture cannot be reduced to tacos, oversized sombreros and piñatas. Teaching and learning specialist Lauryn Mascareñaz explains the history behind the holiday—and how to approach it in the classroom.

What’s a Sanctuary City Anyway?

The news has been abuzz with the term sanctuary city since President Trump issued an executive order on the matter in early 2017. Attorney Naomi Tsu, who directs the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, explains exactly what sanctuary cities are.

DACA Decision Puts DREAMers Back in Limbo

The White House and Justice Department potentially closed a door on some of the United States’ most vital and courageous individuals. As educators, this is not an issue we can ignore. Instead, here’s what we can do.

Who Are American Muslims?

Why is anti-Muslim bias on the rise in the United States? How much do your students know about Islam and its followers? Explore these questions with two student-friendly videos.

Why I Will Not be Teaching About Charlottesville

After Charlottesville, this black teacher of black and brown students knew that her kids would not want another lesson about bigotry and racism. Here’s what she did instead.

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Teaching Tolerance regularly publishes timely articles and coverage that don’t appear in our magazine. Check out our latest articles here.

Magazine Features

Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff

Now, more than ever, these vulnerable students need advocates in schools. This guide offered resources for those hoping to be that advocate.

What Is the “Alt-Right”?

White nationalism has come out of the basement and entered the mainstream. This 101 gives educators some important background on the so-called “alt-right” and how to recognize it if it enters the classroom.

Walking Undocumented

Wildin Acosta walked across the graduation stage in June 2017—but he almost didn't make it. Read about his incredible journey and the team of student journalists and teachers who helped make it happen.

An Open Letter to Teachers Everywhere

Are you ready for a revolution? This veteran educator is.

Why Teaching Black Lives Matter Matters

All educators have the civic responsibility to learn and teach the basic history and tenets of this movement for racial justice.

Mariposas

This Latina civic empowerment program seeks to “take stories of adversity and flip them into stories of glory."

Mindful of Equity

Practices that help students control their impulses can also mask systemic failures.

“Conversations Aren’t Enough”

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones tells the hard truth about why so many students still attend segregated schools.

Bullying and the Bottom Line

The cost of bullying isn’t just psychological and physical; it’s also fiscal.

You can subscribe to our magazine here. It's free to educators.

PD: Publications and Webinars

Serving ELL Students and Families

Reviewing a few key practices as a staff can help move the entire school toward a comprehensive and culturally responsive approach to serving English language learners and their families. This guide can help get the process started.

Equity Matters: Developing Empathy

The first webinar in the Equity Matters series addresses the importance of empathy in our interactions with students and in students’ interactions with others.

Let’s Talk! Teaching Black Lives Matter

This sequel webinar to Let's Talk! Discussing Black Lives Matter in the Classroom reviews the education-related policy demands within the Movement for Black Lives' platform: Invest-Divest and Community Control.

Learning Plans

Challenging Stereotypes

How can we build connection and understanding between diverse groups? This Teaching Tolerance learning plan helps students in grades 9-12 get there.

Proud to be Me

This Teaching Tolerance learning plan lets kids in grades K-2 explore this essential question: How do people show that they are proud of themselves?

Understanding Differences

This learning plan for students in grades 3-5 illustrates how people with different abilities are treated, and what gifts they contribute to a community.
Source: www.tolerance.org/magazine/the-best-of-2017

How Can Parents Teach Beyond Tolerance?


It's no longer adequate for parents to teach their children simply about Tolerance. Think about it. What does it mean to tolerate someone? Might it feel better to step beyond mere tolerance and labels and see others who are different from ourselves as just ordinary human beings with different views or beliefs? Learn to replace tolerance by embracing and rejoicing in the natural diversity of humanity by making it the new normal. Simply shift the distinction of "them and us" to "us".

Parents can teach this by example — and in other ways, too. Talking together about respect helps kids learn more about the values you want them to have. Giving them opportunities to play and work with others is important as well. This lets kids learn firsthand that everyone has something to contribute and to experience differences and similarities. Things parents can do include:

1. Notice your own attitudes. Parents who want to help their kids value diversity can be sensitive to cultural stereotypes they may have learned and make an effort to correct them. Demonstrate an attitude of respect for others.

2. Remember that kids are always listening. Be aware of the way you talk about people who are different from yourself. Do not make jokes that perpetuate stereotypes. Although some of these might seem like harmless fun, they can undo attitudes of respect.

3. Select books, toys, music, art, and videos carefully. Keep in mind the powerful effect the media and pop culture have on shaping minds.

4. Point out and talk about unfair stereotypes that may be portrayed in media.

5. Answer kids' questions about differences honestly and respectfully. This teaches that it is acceptable to notice and discuss differences as long as it is done with respect.

6. Acknowledge and respect differences within your own family. Demonstrate acceptance of your children's differing abilities, interests, and styles. Value the uniqueness of each member of your family.

7. Remember that tolerance does not mean tolerating unacceptable behavior. It means that everyone deserves to be treated with respect — and should treat others with respect as well

8. Help your children feel good about themselves. Kids who feel badly about themselves often treat others badly. Kids with strong self-esteem value and respect themselves are more likely to treat others with respect. Help your child to feel accepted, respected, and valued.

9. Give kids opportunities to work and play with others who are different from them. When choosing a school, day camp, or childcare facility, find one with a diverse population.

10. Learn together about holiday and religious celebrations that are not part of your own tradition.

11. Honor your family's traditions and teach them to your kid and to those outside your family who want to learn about the diversity you have to offer.

When parents encourage a respectful attitude in their children, talk about their values, and model the behavior they would like to see by treating others well, kids will follow in their footsteps.

Teach Tolerance


We know we won’t achieve equality and justice through the courts and investigative reporting alone. The future of our great country lies in the hands of today’s young people.

That’s why we aim to put our legal work and Intelligence Project out of business: We’re reaching into schools across the nation with lessons to counter the bigotry and extremism that children hear in the media and even from people who are supposed to be role models. The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program works through educators to nurture a new generation that is more accepting of difference and more engaged in social justice than those that preceded it. We want kids to get along with each other and, just as important, see themselves as global citizens in a diverse society with the capacity to work together for a fairer world.

Since 1991, Teaching Tolerance has equipped hundreds of thousands of educators with classroom tools and resources that reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and foster school equity. This anti-bias program creates and distributes—free of charge—award-winning content through curriculum guides, professional development materials, films, articles and blogs. Teaching Tolerance magazine is sent to 450,000 educators in all 50 states and Canada twice annually, with a Summer issue available online and on iPad, and tens of thousands of educators use our free curricular kits. Teaching Tolerance provides these materials and an entire anti-bias curriculum so educators can integrate them into core classroom units, their own professional development and school culture—and across whole school districts.

Mix It Up at Lunch Day, the anchor event for Teaching Tolerance’s Mix It Up program, encourages students to do something simple yet powerful—sit next to someone new in the cafeteria. More than 6,000 schools participated in our annual Mix It Up at Lunch Day program in 2013, and more than 95 percent of Mix It Up organizers say the event prompts students to interact outside their normal social circles. Nearly 80 percent report those interactions result in new friendships across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and other divisions.

Feedback from the Teaching Tolerance audience also indicates that our resources deepen students’ understanding of human diversity, raise their awareness about social problems and increase behaviors that counteract those problems. Further, more than 90 percent of classroom teachers who read Teaching Tolerance magazine report that it helps them think more deeply about diversity issues, better meet students’ needs and better teach. Eighty-five percent use the suggested activities in their classrooms.

Teaching Tolerance has attracted considerable external recognition, including 35 honors from the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP)—including the Golden Lamp, its highest honor—two Oscars®, an Emmy® and awards from the National Education Association, among others. In 2009, AEP named Teaching Tolerance magazine Periodical of the Year in Distinguished Achievement.
Source: www.splcenter.org/what-we-do/teaching-tolerance

Teaching Tolerance to Children 7 to 10


Prejudice is learned. So is acceptance. Here are some tips for getting the issue of tolerance out on the table: (1) Hold many brief conversations instead of one long lecture. This will show your child that they can bring up the subject for discussion at any time. (2) Don't be wishy-washy. Children are far more likely to pay attention when you talk specifically and answer their questions directly. (3) Don't worry if you don't have all the answers. Lack of knowledge can provide a golden opportunity to go to the library or go on-line to find out more. (4) Don't tolerate prejudicial language or humor. (Editor: "Reply to All" when you receive prejudicial jokes via email and state the negative impact they have on you and ask not to receive them anymore.) (5) Use television and books as tools to explore prejudice and stereotyping. Parents Tips & Tricks

"They Shot Him, Papa!": Finding Smarter Ways to Talk to Kids About Diversity


Teaching children about diversity can be a tricky proposition. In the "No Child Left Behind" era, so much time is devoted to preparing students for test-taking that old school subjects like good citizenship, social behavior, and community values may get short shrift. (There is, after all, no standardized test for "plays well with others.") Multiculturalism -- so widely emphasized in the Marlo Thomas 70's -- often ends up limited to theme days and special projects. When my daughter was in Kindergarten, the subject of diversity did not arise in her class until Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

This is how we found out that they were talking about race: over dinner, she announced that Martin Luther King Jr. wanted people with white skin and brown skin to be friends but people got mad so they shot him. While that is not an inaccurate summary of the history involved, it does pretty much foreground the assassination and diminish the rest of his accomplishments. It's a little depressing to think that the legacy of Dr. King's life could be boiled down into "Equality will get you killed."

Obviously, race murder was not the subject we'd expected to be discussing when we asked "How was school, honey?" so we probed to find out what else she had learned. All she could remember was that people have different skin colors and that some people really don't like people with brown skin. As a mixed race girl in a school 95% white, this was not a small thing to ponder.

This theme continued all week at school, with her classmates making paints to match their own skin colors, which I assume was meant to be empowering, but which only cemented the notion of pigment being key. I was volunteering in class that week and was asked to make a rainbow using the skin colors labeled by student name; I counter-proposed and suggested a collage, with all the colors mixed. Both ideas are ways of saying "we're all in this together" but the second approach moved away from any kind of spectrum in which similar colors would be closest to each other.

The hearts of all involved were in the right place: the school for making diversity part of the curriculum and the teachers for trying to explore the theme in hands-on activities. But the truth is that this particular approach was a little clumsy, even if representative of how a lot of people handle the topic of diversity: sincerely, but in misguided fashion, seeking easy languages and metaphors for inclusion that nonetheless inadvertently emphasize division and otherness.

By the end of the week, the limits of this approach had been made clear when a white boy told a boy of color -- one of his best friends -- that they couldn't play together anymore because of the boy's brown skin. This reaction, I have to admit, was a fairly logical outgrowth of the white child's understanding of the lesson he'd just learned in school: that a white man killed a black man because the black man wanted their races to get along. For the white boy hearing such a message, not playing with his African-American pal could equal watching out for his friend's safety.

Good news: the divide didn't last -- the boys are back to playing to "Star Wars" again. But it illustrates why it is so vital for schools to find more sophisticated, meaningful ways to approach the subject of diversity. Here are 5 simple suggestions from a Dad on the front lines:

  • Don't wait till Martin Luther King Jr. Day to discuss diversity. Halfway through the school year is hardly the time to discover the topic. Keying it to one month implies it is not an ongoing issue and keying it to this one specific day makes it inescapably linked to violence.
  • Don't use race as the sole definition of diversity. Diversity of ethnicity, country of origin,
  • socioeconomic status, family configuration, religious belief, physical status --t here are a lot of points of entry reflecting the diverse lives of the children who make up a class. And with younger students, one approach is to begin even more simply, examining differences of any kind (house color, preferred breakfast cereal, kind of car) and talking about why those differences don't divide us.
  • Focus on the twin values of the civil rights movement: fairness and possibility. By helping children focus on how they and their culture can be most fair, and encouraging them to dream about what actions they can take to better their world, you encourage active citizenship.
  • Model diversity when not talking about it. From the names of children used in sample sentences to the characters who are featured in storybooks and activity sheets, you can make sure diversity becomes part of the fabric of learning -- even (and especially) when diversity itself is not the topic.
  • Remember that diversity is not an "us" versus "them." Teaching diversity is not about making some kids feel included while educating the rest about "others"; it's about finding language to acknowledge the real world as it already is and making all children feel at home in sharing it.

My daughter was right, Martin Luther King Jr. died; but he dreamed first -- and he dreamed big enough to change the world. I think that's something worth celebrating and teaching.
Source: www.huffingtonpost.com/david-valdes-greenwood/talking-to-kids-about-diversity_b_1193801.html?icid=maing-grid10%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl12%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D127909 or http://bit.ly/yqyOnH

Digital and Civic Literacy Skills


The internet is an amazing tool for teaching and learning. But, before we can teach students to harness its power and become good citizens of the web, we need to understand the intricacies of how it works and how it can be manipulated to mislead and even harm users.

How Does "Fake" News Become News? 6:33

6:38

Filter bubbles? Signal boosters? Watch our short video on how these phenomena can drive the news cycle away from the truth.

Source: www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=qcRWkkSvfj0

The Teaching Tolerance Digital Literacy Framework offers seven key areas in which students need support developing digital and civic literacy skills. The numbered items in each box below represent the overarching knowledge and skills that make up the framework. The bullets represent more granular examples of student behaviors to help educators evaluate mastery.

1. Students can locate and verify reliable sources of information.

Students will...

  • Evaluate sources for reliability.
  • Use a variety of tools to evaluate sources for bias.
  • Understand and identify common reasoning errors.

Lessons

  • K-2: Choosing Reliable Sources
  • 3-5: Evaluating Reliable Sources
  • 6-8: Analyzing How Words Communicate Bias
  • 9-12: Evaluating Online Sources

2. Students understand how digital information comes to them.

Students will....

  • Evaluate search algorithms.
  • Choose high-quality sources for information.

Lessons

  • 3-5: Understanding Online Searches
  • 6-8: Understanding and Evaluating Online Searches
  • 9-12: Understanding How Digital Information Comes to You

3. Students can constructively engage in digital communities.

Students will...

  • Display inclusivity and empathy during group communications.
  • Evaluate group communications for bias and hate.

Lessons

  • K-2: Part of a Community Online
  • 3-5: Participating in Digital Communities
  • 6-8: Civic Engagement and Communication as Digital Community Members
  • 9-12: Constructively Engaging in Digital Communities

4. Students understand how online communication affects privacy and security.

Students will...

Map and monitor their digital footprint.

Identify platforms and techniques for safe digital communication.

Lessons

  • 3-5: Privacy and Security Online
  • 6-8: The Privacy Paradox
  • 9-12: How Online Communication Affects Privacy and Security

5. Students understand that they are producers of information.

Students will...

Make and share digital content.

Remix and share digital content.

Lessons

  • 3-5: Producing Digital Information
  • 6-8: Digital Activism Remixed
  • 9-12: How Fair Use Works

6. Students understand their role as customers in an online marketplace.

Students will...

Evaluate the role of online advertisements.

Understand the larger economics of digital marketplaces.

Lessons

  • K-2: Advertisements and You
  • 3-5: Sensible Consumers
  • 6-8: Advertising on the Internet
  • 9-12: You Are the Product

7. Students can evaluate the value of the internet as a mechanism of civic action.

Students will...

Understand the use of digital tools for active citizenship.

Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of digital remedies for injustice and calls to action.

Lessons

  • 3-5: Activism Online
  • 6-8: Social Media for Social Action
  • 9-12: Digital Tools as a Mechanism for Active Citizenship

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

This PD module offers a series of activities designed to help educators brush up their digital literacy knowledge.

Teaching Digital Literacy

Can your students tell the difference between real news and “fake” news? Do they have the tools to speak up when they witness offensive speech online? This interactive webinar offers the background and resources necessary to help students develop these critical skills.
Source: www.tolerance.org/frameworks/digital-literacy

Learning the Landscape of Digital Literacy


The internet and digital technology have not only changed our day-to-day lives—they have changed the boundaries of education. Most educators embrace the opportunities (and responsibilities) presented by new media and increased access to information.

With a global library of resources at their fingertips, students and educators can research more broadly and deeply than ever before. Social platforms allow for personal and professional connections, regardless of location. Networks of people connected by a common cause have expanded the definition of activism and collective action. And though access to digital resources remains an important equity issue, information has never been more widespread, allowing many students and educators to reach beyond the limits presented by their locations, budgets or other circumstances.

But as the digital landscape becomes more complex and expansive, it is also becoming more difficult to navigate and easier to manipulate, as high-profile reports about the influence of “fake news” and Twitter bots reveal. The ability to navigate this landscape effectively without succumbing to the pitfalls of media manipulation requires a multi-faceted skill set often referred to under the umbrella term digital literacy.

Digital literacy is more than the ability to identify misinformation or avoid bad guys online; it means being able to participate meaningfully in online communities, interpret the changing digital landscape, and unlock the power of the internet for good. Digital literacy, in the modern United States, is fundamental to civic literacy.

Why Is Digital Literacy Important?

The need for digital literacy extends into multiple areas of life, including life away from the keyboard.

Privacy concerns. As identity, personal information and accounts become more entangled with the web, the stakes become higher with regard to privacy. Hacking and doxxing (the purposeful and often malicious reveal of someone’s personal information or images) are weaponized more frequently, and more of us are vulnerable as a result. Even legitimate commercial entities can legally share or sell personal information under certain circumstances, increasing the need for vigilance. Personal security now requires knowing how to protect against these vulnerabilities.

Digital footprints. Screenshots, check-ins, selfies and tagging are part of daily life for many students and adults. With such intense, sometimes involuntary, documentation flooding the digital landscape, online users must understand the consequences of what they share (or what is shared about them), often referred to as their digital footprint. Deleting a post or untagging a photo doesn’t erase online activity. Once words and images go online, they can have a lasting impact on everyone involved.

Uncivil online behavior. Some online communities have moderators or guidelines for participation, but many don’t. Online users need the tools to counter uncivil speech and behavior, and to understand the consequences of engaging in uncivil acts online, including bullying and hate speech.

Fake news. Online content producers are very good at figuring out what kinds of stories get clicks, allowing them to both capture public attention and sell profitable ad space. This ability to manipulate user behavior on the web has led to the spread of false and misleading information. Sometimes this information is posted accidentally, sometimes deliberately for profit, sometimes for attention, and sometimes it is used to promote a political agenda. Users need the skills to think critically about online sources and evaluate their reliability.

Internet scams. Similar to the need to be able to evaluate online messaging and calls to action, users need to know enough to be wary of offers designed to exploit their financial trust or breach personal security.

Echo chambers. The market economy of the internet pushes people into increasingly partisan and divided corners by exposing users to content that reinforces their existing beliefs. Users need skills to help them find different viewpoints and perspectives and to evaluate how their online behavior influences the information they receive. This skill is one of the most powerful tools we have to counter political polarization.

Legitimacy concerns. The online marketplace rewards popularity. News and content providers, search engines, social media sites and advertisers all want high numbers of views, and stories with an extreme partisan bent, humor or memes tend to spread or “go viral.” Content that gets clicked on, however, isn’t always accurate or high quality. Users need the skills to differentiate between the attention an item receives and the item’s actual merit.

The rise of the alt-right. The so-called alt-right’s recruitment strategy exposes a need to understand—and, particularly, to teach young people—how to recognize propaganda and hate speech, even when it is shrouded in humor, irony or pseudoscience. Other extremist groups that purposefully peddle false messages have already adopted the tactics of the alt-right, so the need to recognize its recruitment strategy is greater than ever.

Online radicalization. With extreme ideologies readily present on the internet, users need to be equipped with critical thinking and research skills that will keep them from falling down a rabbit hole of increasingly extreme and isolating content online. Students unable to distinguish good from bad information remain more vulnerable to recruitment by hate groups.

Challenges to Digital Literacy

Volume

Understanding the goals and the importance of digital literacy is one thing, but actually achieving it is no small task. That’s because the sheer volume of information available online is unprecedented—and can be overwhelming. We are exposed to more information than ever before, and the speed at which it comes to us can outstrip our capacity to process that information carefully.

Did you know that the number of worldwide internet users equates to nearly half the population of Earth? Moreover, in the last five years, more than a billion people have joined some form of social media. As internet use has grown, so has the online marketplace of news and content. According to the business intelligence experts at the software company DOMO: 4.1 million users watch YouTube videos; 456,000 Twitter users send a tweet; 46,740 Instagram users post a photo; 3.6 million people conduct a search on Google; and more than 100 million spam emails get sent—every minute.

Across these platforms, organizations and individuals very often present their content as news or as fact. Accuracy is not always a prerequisite. The truth is that people are more likely to share false or exaggerated stories than fact-checked stories because: (a) factual reporting is time consuming and expensive; and (b) the benefits of publishing inaccurate news (clicks, ad buys, political capital) often outweigh the consequences. In a fight for attention, quick, “sexy” stories present a profitable opportunity. Politifact identified more than 200 sites and Facebook pages deliberately sharing “fake news,” and Google has punished more than 300 sites for publishing fake content. These lists do not include sites that purposefully stretch or distort truth to promote propaganda or partisan messaging. In other words, falsehoods are not merely present on the internet—they are pervasive. And while many internet users may struggle to distinguish fact from fiction, students in particular have trouble telling the difference.

Multiple sources competing for our eyeballs creates an attention economy. Think of this like a carnival, with content providers as the carnival barkers aggressively calling for your attention and (by extension) your money. Once you pay to play their game, the quality and fairness of the game no longer matters. Your click has been recorded, and the exchange has been made. Content providers operate similarly, often sharing different versions of the same story at the same time in a digital space that values page or video views more than accuracy.

Young people—the superusers of the internet—are the ultimate target audience for this economy. More than 90 percent of U.S. teens go online daily; about a quarter of them say they are online “almost constantly.

Internet culture and social media makes it more difficult to assess the credibility of stories for three reasons: the abundance of sources, the speed at which they make a story go viral and the presence of filter bubbles—where likeminded people gather online, often unexposed to varying viewpoints and perspectives. This means that people mostly see stories that confirm their own beliefs and biases. It also means that when fake news spreads within those filter bubbles, fact-checked stories often fail to reach the audience that needs them most.

These bubbles are strengthened by the science behind search engines, social media sites and even our brains. This heavily influences what internet users see on a daily basis—whether they know it or not.

Illusion of Choice

Even if the internet offered easy access to a cross-section of information and news, it would still be a challenge to navigate. Media literacy has always required a good eye for reliable sources and the willingness to dive deep into a source and determine what is true and what isn’t.

But the internet isn’t an open library. It’s a predetermined experience.

One reason for this is that the algorithms powering search engines and social media timelines often choose what we see, tailoring our browsing experience based on our search histories, interests, posts we like, what we buy, our location, personal data, etc. Imagine if a restaurant rearranged its buffet to put the food you frequently eat and enjoy at the front end of the table so you’d see it first, or if the restaurant even removed what you don’t like from the table entirely. Algorithms work in a similar way. Algorithms not only serve the purpose of showing us content or ads that closely align to our interests; they also give us the illusion of comfort and belonging within a platform, increasing the likelihood that we’ll continue to use it.

Algorithms are not the only way that content is pushed to us without our knowledge. Content creators hoping to make money, spread political propaganda or both boost certain kinds of content, either by gaming algorithms or causing something to “trend” through widespread sharing. (There is actually a cottage industry devoted to this type of signal boosting.) Bots can take this a step further, creating an army of fake electronic messengers whose high levels of engagement create the illusion that a topic or piece of content is popular or important.

People who know how to manipulate search engine algorithms or organize an army of social media users—real or robotic—have a lot of power in this new attention economy. Their methods often influence what trends (or appears popular), and therefore, what becomes the talking points of the day. News outlets desperate for headlines soon follow suit, figuring that if enough social media users (real or fake) talk about a subject to get it trending on Twitter, Facebook or Google, it will likely make for a well-trafficked story. This is called media manipulation or media hacking.

Media consumers have been conditioned to believe that topics appear in the headlines organically—that these are the subjects that matter most, no matter their origin. That’s what makes media hacking so dangerous: misinformation is legitimized before it is caught. According to a report by the technology-focused research institute Data and Society, “The media’s dependence on social media, analytics and metrics, sensationalism, novelty over newsworthiness, and clickbait makes them vulnerable to such media manipulation.”

Media hacking increases the visibility of ideas, stories and movements that once existed only on the fringes or were never real to begin with. Journalists pressured to deliver breaking news may get caught up in the speed of online media and share misinformation unknowingly. Well-followed influencers tricked by a post may share something hurtful or fake without a thoughtful evaluation of the content. Well-intended users—like many of us—may see a story cloaked in what seems like legitimate stats, graphics or science and then may unknowingly participate in the hack by sharing misinformation.

These falsehoods rise to (and often above) the level of legitimate news stories in the attention economy. And, unfortunately, we do not possess the natural capability to easily find and remove bias and lies from our news feed.

Cognitive Shortcuts

Part of understanding digital literacy means understanding the science of how we think. Our brains use shortcuts (often called heuristics) to cut through confusing masses of information—such as the overwhelming number of stories that we encounter on social media every day. Here are just a few examples of brain tendencies we have to overcome if we want to remain open to multiple viewpoints, address our biases and resist misleading content:

Confirmation bias: The tendency to be more willing or likely to believe information that supports what we already believe to be true.

Example: John’s favorite drink is grape soda, and he thinks his mother’s concerns about his health are overblown. When he sees a misleading headline, “Study suggests drinking grape soda improves health and happiness in teens,” he shares it on his social media without reading the text of the article, which points out the study’s poor methodology and the fact that is was sponsored by the soda industry. He uses this study to refute his mom’s worries.

While this is a humorous example of confirmation bias, the story won’t always be about grape soda. Confirmation bias makes it more difficult to fact-check false narratives that go viral, especially for readers who find that the false narrative fits their pre-existing beliefs. This bias also makes it more difficult for people to listen to perspectives and voices outside of their culture (or their filter bubble) in a way that is empathetic and open-minded.

Illusion of explanatory depth: The tendency to believe we know more than we truly do.

Example: Most people feel confident, when asked, that they understand how a bike works. We were all kids once, and many of us rode bicycles. But in a 2006 study, the University of Liverpool asked people to draw a bicycle, and many of them failed miserably, failing to place pedals, chain, wheels and frames in the correct position.

This tendency to trust our knowledge—even when we shouldn’t—can inhibit our abilities to fact check, make connections or research a topic we think we understand. If we don’t think we need to look further into something, we won’t. This leads to limited understanding. It also makes it easier for media manipulators to peddle cleverly designed misinformation.

Dunning-Krueger effect: A cognitive bias that leads people of limited skills or knowledge to mistakenly believe their abilities are greater than they actually are.

Example: Claudia considers herself a “grammar nerd” and tells everyone that she sweats over the improper use of semicolons. She did, after all, major in English. When an editor returns her academic paper and notes several misused commas and run-on sentences, she is flummoxed and feels it is the instructor who must be wrong.

Most people believe they are equipped to handle information overflow on the internet and overestimate their ability to sniff out a fake story or misleading headline. Students and adults alike feel more digitally literate than their online behavior actually indicates. This means part of the challenge of teaching digital literacy is convincing people that they need the information or that they are part of the problem.

Illusion of comprehension: A cognitive bias that occurs when people mistake familiarity or awareness for actual understanding. Also called the “familiarity effect.”

Example: Trey studied for the upcoming history test by looking at flash cards for hours. But he still got a bad grade on the test, and didn’t understand why. Trey had become familiar with all of the dates and people he was going to be tested on, but he couldn’t remember how all the pieces connected, nor could he describe the bigger picture. Memorization didn’t work in the context of a test that required a show of deep understanding.

This cognitive bias has two major implications on the internet. First, it means people often mistake a surface-level awareness for deeper understanding, making them less likely to look closer at a topic they’ve seen discussed repeatedly online. This often leads to people taking strong positions on topics they hear about a lot, but of which they actually know little, such as climate science. Second, it leads consumers in the attention economy to accept repeated or familiar misinformation as factual information. The more a conspiracy theory or fake story gets repeated by content providers, the more that theory or story becomes familiar to online users, increasing the likelihood that their brains will accept it as fact.

Together, these cognitive shortcuts leave us vulnerable to disinformation in the digital media world. Even fact-based checks on fake stories are met with resistance from a brain that has already accepted another reality (a phenomenon known as belief perseverance). This is why it’s so important to be able to identify and resist misinformation in the first place; reactive fact-checking rarely works. It’s also why it’s dangerous when fake stories spread too widely: Repeated exposure to false information may induce people to believe that information is true, even if there is evidence to the contrary (a phenomenon known as the illusory truth effect)

Loss of Trust in the Media

Democracy depends upon a free press and trust in the information it provides. Loss of trust in the media has consequences. According to the Data and Society report, more manipulation of the attention economy and the media means “decreased trust of mainstream media, increased misinformation, and further radicalization.”

Already, we know that young people lack trust when it comes to traditional news and rely heavily on social media as their primary source of news, leaving them open to misinformation campaigns. Moreover, if young people increasingly reject journalistic institutions, they will not seek out as much high-quality, investigative reporting. Journalism has historically served to hold those in power accountable and expose truth. But if people stop seeing reporting as truth, who is held responsible?

Another negative consequence is that lack of trust in institutions will make self-government difficult, as people will be less likely to learn about and take part in civic engagement. Will today’s students understand the power of the vote and the power of representation if they do not, first, believe in the legitimacy of voting and government? And, the less we understand and participate in self-governance, the less we understand how government works and how to hold public officials accountable. This lack of engagement can lead to less resistance and more corruption—making trust issues even worse.

We also know young people can become less empathetic in an internet culture that prizes humor and viral memes (sometimes referred to as meme culture) more than genuine human connection. Groupthink only makes this worse, and can cause insensitive or even cruel behavior to happen en masse. The normalization of trolling, shaming and exploiting others’ insecurities for the likes or “lulz” has made the internet an often-uncivil place. And radical groups use these tactics to appear youthful, edgy and fun while disguising their hateful messages as humorous and normal. In a worst-case scenario, students more susceptible to misinformation and meme culture also become more susceptible to radicalization and recruitment from extremist groups that promise a sense of belonging, appeal to a teen’s need to rebel and find new identity, and campaign against certain groups of people with misinformation and troll tactics.

While these consequences may not seem individually threatening, when combined, they can profoundly alter what internet users believe and how they behave—socially, politically and economically. Over time, this loss of trust even has the power to destabilize our democracy.

Toward a More Digitally Literate Society

It may seem like a daunting problem, but there are steps we as individuals and as members of institutions like schools, clubs and professional associations can take to become more digitally literate and to encourage the digital literacy of others. Begin by exploring the lessons, videos and professional development materials Teaching Tolerance has created to help internet users of all ages become more savvy and self-aware as they navigate the online world. Try a few activities, like taking steps to balance your media diet, learning the language of digital literacy and watching a short video on how “fake news” becomes just “news.” You’ll soon begin to notice cues you may have previously ignored—maybe tipping you off to a source that isn’t reliable, an online offer that seems too good to be true, or to the habits of your own mind. It may require work, but it’s work we must undertake. And the more familiar we become with the problem, the more easily and capably we can become part of the solution.

Vocabulary

Algorithm: A procedure used to locate specific data within a collection of information. Also called a search algorithm.

Attention economy: The idea that one of the driving forces of online interactions is the exchange of attention, rather than goods or money.

Belief perseverance: The tendency to continue believing something even after learning that the foundation of the belief is false

Bot: An automated online program; short for web robot.

Digital literacy: The ability to participate safely, critically, meaningfully and justly in the production and consumption of content online

Digital footprint: The information about a person that can be found online as a result of their internet activity

Filter bubble: The limited perspective that can result from personalized search algorithms

Groupthink: A group’s practice of thinking or making decisions in such a way that promotes harmony and conformity within the group at the expense of creativity or individual responsibility.

Heuristic: A cognitive shortcut, rule or method that helps people solve problems in less time than it would take to think the problem all the way through.

Illusory truth effect: A cognitive bias that occurs when people confuse repetition with truth. Repeated exposure to false information may induce people to believe that this information is true, even when they know better.

Lulz: Laughter and enjoyment, usually at someone else’s expense.

Media hacking: The manipulation of electronic and online media, especially social media, to shape a particular narrative

Meme culture: Internet culture centered around the creation and distribution of memes: images, videos, phrases, symbols or other brief texts meant to be funny and shared widely online, often with slight changes.
Source: www.tolerance.org/magazine/publications/learning-the-landscape-of-digital-literacy

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