California Lawmakers Propose Bills to Teach Students to Identify ‘Fake News’

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A couple of California legislators introduced bills to counter “fake news” by teaching high school students the ins and outs of detecting stories that are misleading or outright inaccurate.

The problem is, though, in the wording of the bill — which reveals the true intent of its sponsors.

California state Senator Bill Dodd

Specifically, the bill’s all about censoring speech, not countering fake news.

It’s about shutting down dissent, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience in the public square. In other words, it’s about totalitarianism — and that it’s sponsors are Democrats is no real surprise.

From the Guardian:

In northern California, state senator Bill Dodd proposed a measure that would ask the state education board to create a “media literacy” curriculum. His proposal would incorporate training in social science courses from first through 12th grade and try to teach students critical thinking, independent research and “digital citizenship”.

“The rise of fake and misleading news is deeply concerning,” Dodd said in a statement. “Even more concerning is the lack of education provided to ensure people can distinguish what is fact and what’s not.”

“By giving students the proper tools to analyze the media they consume, we can empower them to make informed decisions,” he added.

In Los Angeles, assemblyman Jimmy Gomez introduced a separate but similar bill that would bring “civic online reasoning” into student curriculums. His bill would incorporate critical thinking skills into a range of courses, including English, science, math and history, for grades seven through 12.

Gomez warned that the 2016 election showed “the corrupting effects of a deliberate propaganda campaign driven by fake news”.

“When fake news is repeated, it becomes difficult for the public to discern what’s real,” he said in a statement. “These attempts to mislead readers pose a direct threat to our democracy.”

He said he hoped his measure would help young Californians discern “between news intended to inform and fake news intended to mislead”.

In November, a Stanford University study found that 82% of high school students surveyed could not distinguish between a reported news story and an advertisement. During last year’s election, rumors and false reports spread widely, and in the aftermath of the vote partisans began to accuse each other of propagating “fake news”.

President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump have both denounced “fake news” in recent weeks, to different purposes. In November, Obama warned that democracies would be threatened by the spread of misinformation and false reports, and by the discrediting of once trusted news sources. This week, Trump seized on the phrase “fake news” to characterize unsubstantiated allegations about him, blaming BuzzFeed and CNN in particular.

Tessa Jolls, president of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Center for Media Literacy, said that such measures were long overdue. “Now that powers have shifted, with citizens as producers [of information], people are suddenly saying, ‘Oh wow, this is something we need.’”

Jolls said that no single curriculum was perfect but that Americans should start thinking about “core questions” when they consume any kind of media, whether it’s news stories, viral videos or social media rants. She suggested that an ideal curriculum would teach students to ask about the motives behind a posted clip and what effects it might have on others. “Do they decide this is gossipy and great, so I’m going to share it on social media, or do they think this could hurt somebody, so I’m not going to share it? We really need to consciously address these decisions.”

Jolls added that in recent years, many Americans had lurched from trusting the news too much toward distrusting everything. The goal of objectivity had created “an impossible standard”, she added.

“What we want is skepticism, not cynicism,” she said. “Cynicism is when you don’t believe anything. Skepticism is when you have discernment, judgment you can rely on.”

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