<span class='p-name'>Digital Wildfires: Tending to Social Media in the Classroom</span>

Digital Wildfires: Tending to Social Media in the Classroom

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” – Audre Lorde (1983)

Together with a great group of colleagues, we published a piece in the special issue on Bringing Critical Media Literacy into ELA Classroom from NCTE.

You can review the draft we submitted to the journal here. The full publication is embedded below. In the remainder of this post, I’ll share some of the insights detailed in the piece.


Understanding Digital Wildfires

One of the first challenges in understanding the current situation is that educators and researchers
need to stop viewing this as primarily an academic exercise. In truth, society may currently be engaged in a full-scale online informational war. Most of the critical media literacy that is taught in our classrooms shows a misunderstanding of sources and messages involved and is in no way commensurate with the threat we face.

I know that many educators do not like using military terms like war, bootcamp, or intervention to describe work with youth in classrooms. We are specifically using the term war to indicate the severity of these times. To address these challenges, we need to first understand the concepts of misinformation and disinformation.

  • Misinformation is defined as false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead. Misinformation is sometimes considered to be unintentional sharing. When people spread misinformation, they often believe the information they are sharing.
  • Disinformation is defined as deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda. Disinformation is considered to be the intentional creation or sharing of false or misleading information. Disinformation is often shared with the goal of misleading others.

Taming Digital Wildfires

So what do we do about this situation? We suggest that there are some basic ways that educators and youth can work together to effective address the current situation.

Prebunking –  An effective way to deal with misinformation is to present learners with a small dose in a classroom, explain how they might have been misled, and then try to inoculate them. Instead of debunking, prebunking may provide an opportunity to neutralize the impact of future misinformation on learners. This is a good start, but there is a need to continue to support this learning as students head outside of the classroom. 

Problematizing – If educators want to build critical media literacy skills in digital contexts, they need to address the culture, bias, and microaggressions that may be found in these contexts. If we want students to be an agent of change, we need to support them when they see wrongdoing and act to combat it.

Thankfully, we have a lot of guidance on how students can call out alternative facts as they see them online. One way to interrupt bias in community interactions is to call someone out when the actions or messages are incorrect or harmful. Conversely, there is an opportunity to call someone in when there is an opportunity to make deeper connections, understand different perspectives, or encourage paradigm shifts. It is important to note that developing a call in or call out culture is different than a cancel culture. If youth seek to develop an online space that builds empathy, educates others, and champions social justice, educators need to provide instructional opportunities to develop practices that reflect that vision.

Participating – Developing some inoculation against misinformation and calling out bad behaviors will only go so far. Youth need to practice these digital literacies in a digitally literate environment of their own and need opportunities to test out culturally responsive, critical digital media literacy practices in online environments, and be mentored by peers and adults.

Policymaking – Misinformation and disinformation systems are fundamentally rooted in power. This battle is ultimately about power and inequality. As we seek to rebuild and reify existing power structures in digital contexts, we need to pay attention to who benefits and why. In order to effectively disrupt or reframe these power structures and inequities, there is a need to address the responsibility of the individual developers and corporations that create and connect these systems.

Next Steps

In an increasingly networked, global society, conflict can reach our browsers, learning environments, and, in turn, our students far more quickly than previously conceived. This requires that we move beyond naïve considerations of digital dualism and instead understand the role that educators play as citizens in a global, digital community.

While the web has created opportunity, given marginalized groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created an opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.” Tim Berners-Lee (2019) 

Cover Photo by Steven Weeks on Unsplash

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