Screens are everywhere, and with countless news sources at our fingertips... - Well, there are new concerns about the spread of misinformation on TikTok ahead of the midterm elections.
- [Michelle] Figuring out whether something is true can be difficult.
- [Reporter] Even before the announcement of an indictment, purported images appearing to be former President Trump, surrounded by NYPD officers went viral on social media last week.
The problem, they weren't real.
- [Michelle] Research shows false rumors spread faster than the truth.
- Viral vaccine misinformation is infecting social media.
This time it's on TikTok.
- Start the camera and then you let us know it's started.
You say, "Rolling."
- [Michelle] Teachers across Rhode Island want to make sure students from a young age learn to think critically about the messages they're consuming.
- When she says, "Rolling," you- (Brien claps) - Clap.
(clapper claps) - Well for one, being physically fit can help you fight off illness.
- [Michelle] These fourth graders at Narragansett Elementary School are learning about media by creating it.
(clapper claps) - Hey you, yeah you, in front of the television, get up off your couch, get ready, and get physically fit.
- [Michelle] They're recording a public service announcement about the importance of exercise with the help of Brien Jennings.
He's the school's library media specialist.
- [Children] Not so bad, it's way better than that.
- They come up with a concept.
We assign roles, we assign jobs, they write a script, and then once we've got the script finished, we go into production.
- [Michelle] Jennings spent years working in television news as a photographer.
- That was awesome, wow!
- [Michelle] That inspired him to want to teach children how media can change how they perceive the world.
- Just the concept of how a green screen works is beyond some of them.
Some of them get it (snaps), but one of the kids there, Nick, was wondering, okay, are we gonna hang a picture behind us?
So when he sees what we do with the green screen, that's gonna be a light bulb.
- Ah, but that takes too long, I wanna play video games.
- What is the larger lesson that you want them to take from that?
- I just want 'em to understand that everything is a construct, and they have the power.
If they have the power to make it, then that gives them the power to understand it.
- [Michelle] Children are spending more time on screens than ever before.
According to a survey published by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit research organization, kids between eight and 12-years-old spend about five and a half hours a day using screens for non-school purposes, including social media.
- So Nick, you're gonna do this, (clapper claps), okay?
When Nick does this, Ella, you are the floor director for this one.
- Why is it important from a very young age, to teach students about the ways that media are all around them?
- People don't even realize how much they're consuming.
The adults in their life don't realize how much they're consuming.
So kids are born into it from day one, and if they're gonna be surrounded by it, the sooner they can understand the concepts and the creation that goes behind it, the better they are.
- Sometimes people don't appreciate how teaching about propaganda takes you in all kinds of directions.
- [Michelle] Renee Hobbs has spent three decades studying media literacy.
She's the director of the Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island.
- [Renee] Memes can be beneficial or harmful.
I think this is a harmful meme.
- How would you describe the media landscape that we're living in right now?
- Oh, what does Charles Dickens say?
"It was the best of times, "it was the worst of times."
(laughs) Media right now sets up a kind of reward system where I'll get more visibility for my opinion when I'm at my worst.
That's the worst of times that we're trying to disrupt with Courageous RI.
- [Michelle] Courageous RI is a media literacy project created by Hobbs and her colleagues at URI.
It's funded by a $700,000 grant from the US Department of Homeland Security.
- We are thrilled to be welcoming newcomers to the Courageous Conversation Series.
- [Michelle] Hobbs leads online forums where she talks with people, including teachers, about how to have constructive conversations.
The goal is to reduce the hate that leads to violence and extremism and to help people identify misinformation.
- We are living in a climate right now where there's a lot of stress and anxiety.
Our instinct is to feel hopeless and helpless, like there's nothing we can do.
And this is very dangerous for democracy.
So, in order for us to be citizens, we have to overcome our fear.
Conflict is generative.
When it's productive, it leads to learning, but when it's unproductive, it leads to harm.
- [Crowd] USA, USA!
- [Michelle] She says adults need to take responsibility for the us versus them mentality that contributes to political divisions like we saw on January 6th.
(crowd yelling) - If we don't help people understand how the tools of communication and expression that we're using as everyday things are shaping our attitudes about what it means to be in a democracy, to be a citizen, and what our responsibilities are as citizens, then I think the risk that we lose our democracy is very real.
We're gonna work in small groups to practice the skill called "Looping for Understanding," which is a listening technique that helps reduce harmful conflict.
- [Michelle] Hobbs says helping people hone their listening skills is critical to building a less polarized society.
- Listening is the cure to many of the communication woes we have.
In order to reduce conflict, we have to make sure that people feel understood, that they feel that their views have been heard.
- [Michelle] But research nationwide shows many adults did not learn media literacy skills.
- What are different types of media?
Things that you can watch, see, read, view.
- [Michelle] Jen Robinson is working to change that.
She's an English teacher at Rogers High School in Newport.
- Often when people hear the term "media literacy," the first thing they think of is news, fake news, misinformation.
Media literacy is a field that is so broad and so vast and so wide.
Fiction is media literacy too.
- [Juliet] Parting is such sweet sorrow, then I shall say goodnight til it be morrow.
- [Michelle] Robinson showed her students a stage adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," and then had them compare it to the 1996 film version by director, Baz Luhrmann.
- Romeo, oh Romeo, where for art thou Romeo?
- Do you think the Baz Luhrmann version is for you?
Do you think you are the intended audience, teenagers?
Baz Luhrmann's version of Romeo and Juliet is very shiny and flashy and features very famous actors at the time, Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes.
It has fast cars and guns, and the action is just so fast-paced.
So we talk about pacing, how does pacing change things?
How does the music impact you, the critical analyzers of what they see, and that can take them to the next step.
- [Michelle] For many students, it's a new way of thinking about the information they're consuming.
- I never think of it, I just watch the movie, and I don't ever think of what goes on behind the movie.
- [Michelle] Robinson hopes students take the skills they're learning in her classroom and use them when they get older and vote.
- We hope that they've started to critically analyze messages that come to them in a way that will say, "I don't just wanna watch this message and assume it's true "because it's on my phone, on my screen.
"I want to think, who made this message?
"Am I the audience for this message?
"Why am I the target audience for this message?
"Are they trying to manipulate me?"
- [Michelle] Freshman Madelyn Plowden says she sees the value in learning how to analyze media platforms.
- You could spread misinformation.
I mean, you could spread a lot of rumors, 'cause I wouldn't want to do that.
- What's at stake if students do not become media literate?
- Then they become people that are easily manipulated.
Then they are just passive consumers, and they can be taken advantage of.
They can be fooled, they can lose their money, they can vote only for a candidate and not think about the other candidate at all, because this is all they hear in their algorithm.
They can be lost in an algorithm bubble and not ever escape from it, and then they will not become consumers that are active.
- Keep rolling, keep rolling, let's try it again.
- We jinxed it, three, two.
- [Children] Oh no it doesn't.
- [Michelle] Jennings wants to help his students think about all of the media platforms that are vying for their attention.
- [Jennings] And three, two.
- [Children] Make fit is your choice and get moving!
- The people who are creating media are learning at every step of the way how to fine tune and hone in on grabbing people's attention, and their attention's gonna be the only asset they have left, so if they don't know how to dedicate in the right spots, they're lost.
(gentle orchestral music)