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July 31, 2023

Defining Mis- and Disinformation: A New Toolkit for Educators

This new AFT-sponsored toolkit is based on extensive conversations with educators, parents and experts in mis- and disinformation.

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Over the past decade, the growth of social media platforms and websites has profoundly impacted our society and schools. One of the key challenges is the pervasive spread of misinformation and disinformation, a phenomenon we encounter across our daily lives that has repercussions far beyond the screen.

We've had to discern between misinformation and disinformation and navigate the complex world of social media algorithms that can inadvertently amplify our attempts to rectify or ridicule false information. This has necessitated a sharp learning curve for all of us, particularly in fact-checking and verifying narratives presented in viral posts.

In recent years, our schools have witnessed firsthand the damaging effects of this digital dilemma. From falsified images to fabricated rumors propagated on platforms, disinformation has fostered an environment of bullying and harm. Our educators and school members have rallied to address this issue, urging lawmakers to pressure social media companies to alter their algorithms that often give momentum to damaging information and target kids.

The consequences of misinformation are not limited to education or political discourse. As AFT’s health professionals on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic can attest, the spread of false information can impact life-and-death decisions, often resulting in preventable hospitalizations. Other times, disinformation is designed to inflict reputational harm and to bully.

We need to try to hold social media companies accountable—pressing them to tackle design issues that can lead to unintended consequences and thereby limit the spread of harmful content—but it is imperative that the rest of us be equipped with the skills to identify and tackle disinformation online and offline; the ability to navigate fact from fiction responsibly is becoming increasingly important. That starts with educators and our students. States like New Jersey are pioneering these efforts by making media literacy part of their high school curricula. We are encouraging others to do the same—developing curricula that address these issues, and empowering students to actively participate in our democracy.

This new AFT-sponsored toolkit, What Is Mis- and Disinformation? An AFT Toolkit for Teaching and Instilling Critical-Thinking Skills, is based on extensive conversations with educators, parents and experts in mis- and disinformation. Educators spanning red and blue across the country—in Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia—have created invaluable resources and lesson plans. All the contributors observed what was happening around the country and wanted to help.

This is only the beginning. We are immensely proud of their work, and we envision this as the start of a wider effort to equip educators with the tools necessary to instill critical-thinking skills in their students so they can better navigate this increasingly interconnected world.

Defining Mis- and Disinformation: A New Toolkit for Educators

This free toolkit is based on extensive conversations with educators, parents and experts in mis- and disinformation.

 

Randi Weingarten

RANDI WEINGARTEN is president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, which represents teachers; paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; higher education faculty and staff; nurses and other healthcare professionals; local, state and federal government employees; and early childhood educators. The AFT champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for students, their families and communities. The AFT and its members advance these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through members’ work.

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