For a new generation of learners, ideas centered around the importance of media literacy are rapidly changing throughout all levels of society. Only a generation ago, most US citizens were provided with limited access to public news sources, and for many years, most news stories available to the population at large were disseminated by either major television networks or the mainstream publishing industry.
During this time, fact-checking and journalistic and editorial standards were developed to ensure that most stories were based on verifiable information. The system was far from perfect, but most Americans living prior to the age of social media could be reasonably certain that any given news story in the mainstream media had been vetted before it was published or televised. As biased as many of these stories were, the facts presented within the stories were not generally held to be in dispute.
At its best, this journalistic system of ethics served as a rigorous check on political power structures within the United States. Had journalists like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein lacked credibility as reporters, for example, it is unlikely that the American public would have been made aware of any abuses of power committed by government agencies during the 1970s. Indeed, the institution of journalism is sometimes still referred to as the “Fourth Estate” because of its centrality to the function of democratic societies.
That all changed with the rise of wide-scale access to the Internet and to social media websites. In the age of Facebook, Americans have become inundated with news stories from a vast array of independent sources. This is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, and although increased levels of public access to independent journalism generally lead to positive outcomes for democratic societies, the ability to distinguish between accurate reporting and misinformation has become more difficult than ever.
In this regard, it is vitally important that today’s children be provided with the skills that they will need to separate fact from fiction. After all, today’s high school students are tomorrow’s voters, and a misinformed population is a population that will willingly vote against its own interests.
For example, suppose that a foreign government became interested in the idea of manipulating another country’s election system. To do so, the foreign government might create a media company designed to appear credible to uninformed readers. The foreign government’s security services could also release a steady trickle of “news” stories designed to undermine public faith in the mainstream press. Under such circumstances, disinformation campaigns could determine the fate of public elections on an enormous scale.
While this scenario may sound like the stuff of dystopian science fiction, it is simply a description of what happened earlier this year when Russian security services were caught spreading propaganda materials throughout Central and Eastern Europe via Facebook.
Clearly, an informed electorate is a necessary component of a fair election process in any democratic system. And as we prepare our children for the challenges that they will one day face, we must make it clear to a new generation of learners that not all news sources are equally credible. Society’s future may just depend on that message getting through.
About The Author
Yuri Vanetik is an Entrepreneur, Private Investor, Coalition Builder, and Philanthropist in Orange County, California. He is the Managing Partner of Vanetik International, LLC, a management consulting firm which offers advisory services and strategic planning to businesses and industries. He is also the Managing Partner of Dominion Asset Management, a technology-driven opportunity real estate fund that invests in undervalued real estate throughout the United States. Yuri Vanetik brings over 20 years of professional experience in a variety of roles, and has been featured in notable publications, including the Wall Street Journal, California Business Journal, Forbes, and Bloomberg Law.