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A teacher assists a diverse group of students working on laptops in a bright, modern classroom, emphasizing media literacy skills.

Deep Fakes to Viral Hoaxes: Supporting Students' Media Literacy Skills

May 30, 2024

Deep Fakes to Viral Hoaxes: Supporting Students' Media Literacy Skills

Enhance media literacy education with this blog's free lesson plans and resource recommendations to empower students' critical thinking in the digital age.


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Growing up, my days were often spent unraveling the intricate plots of my favorite TV shows (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Naruto”) and decoding the secrets hidden within pixelated video game realms (“Final Fantasy VII,” “The Legend of Zelda”). These were not just idle pastimes; they were my first forays into understanding a world much larger than my own—a world brimming with messages, both overt and hidden. Today, as media envelops every aspect of our lives, the need for media literacy in our education system has never been more urgent. It’s not just about understanding mis- and disinformation; it’s about empowering our students to navigate through this labyrinth with critical eyes and inquisitive minds.

The Current State of Media Literacy in U.S. Education

As I interact with educators across the country through my work, it's clear that while media literacy is touched upon in some curricula, it often lacks consistency and depth. Many educators are doing their best with the resources at hand, but the patchwork coverage can leave significant gaps. We don’t want our students swimming in a sea of digital content without the necessary life jackets to keep them afloat in the turbulent waters of misinformation.

What Is Media Literacy?

Media literacy teaches us how to understand and create media messages. It's important because it helps us figure out which information is reliable and which isn't, making us smarter consumers of media. By teaching about media literacy, we can help students become better at making informed decisions and protecting themselves from false information.

Why Is Media Literacy Important for Students?

In an era where fake news spreads faster than wildfire, understanding the origin, intent and underlying messages of media has become crucial. From deepfakes to viral hoaxes, the digital age is testing our students’ abilities to distinguish fact from fiction. By incorporating media literacy lessons in our teaching, we equip them not just with a skill but also with a shield against manipulation and falsehoods that pervade the internet.

Benefits of Media Literacy for Educators

For educators, media literacy isn’t just another topic to cram into an already packed curriculum. It’s a dynamic tool that breathes life into every subject. Imagine a history lesson where students analyze propaganda from past wars, or a science lesson that scrutinizes how data is presented in news reports on climate change. Media literacy enhances the teaching experience, making every lesson more relevant and engaging.

Integrating Media Literacy into Lesson Plans

Integrating media literacy can be as simple as questioning the source of a video clip or as in-depth as a project-based activity where students create their own media pieces. For example, our Today’s News, Tomorrow’s Lessonsection offers a media literacy angle on breaking current events. And this lesson from Share My Lesson partner TeachRock helps students to write and analyze ratios by identifying social media audience engagement using data from social media accounts (in this case, Beyoncé’s).This hands-on approach not only makes the learning process interactive but also deeply immersive. Such practical applications of media literacy skills are essential, especially as we consider their broader impact on areas like mental health.

Media Literacy and Mental Health

In our dynamic digital landscape, the intersection of media literacy and mental health has become increasingly critical. Platforms like TikTok have become hotbeds for mental health advice, some of which is insightful, while much remains questionable or outright detrimental. A recent deep dive into the type of mental health advice disseminated on TikTok reveals a concerning trend: Young users are often exposed to unvetted and sketchy advice that could potentially exacerbate their concerns rather than alleviate them. This underscores the urgent need for media literacy programs that teach students not only to discern the reliability of online content but also to critically evaluate the implications of the mental health advice they encounter. By providing students with these skills, we ensure they are better prepared to seek out information that is beneficial and supported by scientific understanding, fostering a healthier relationship with media consumption that respects their mental well-being. This approach not only enhances their ability to navigate media critically but also empowers them to make informed decisions about their mental health, guided by credible sources and professional advice.

Media Literacy Resources and Professional Learning Opportunities

Thankfully, you’re not alone in this endeavor. Share My Lesson has a rich, growing selection of teaching resources and professional learning opportunities that span all subjects, designed by educators for educators; providing creative and practical ways to weave media literacy into every subject. Check out this list of some of our top resources to expand your toolkit and connect with a community of forward-thinking educators.

Cover of "What Is Mis- and Disinformation? An AFT Toolkit for Teaching and Instilling Critical-Thinking Skills" featuring a laptop with a magnifying glass and icons representing media and technology.

Defining Mis- and Disinformation: A Toolkit for Teaching and Instilling Critical Thinking Skills

This AFT-sponsored toolkit is based on extensive conversations with educators, parents and experts in mis- and disinformation. You'll find slide decks, case studies and more to enhance your teaching of media literacy and disinformation.

Learn more
Research Reporter activity page titled "What is Propaganda?" featuring a 90-minute lesson plan with objectives and a "Did You Know?" fact about the weight of the Bust of Commodus.

Exploring Ancient Portrait Busts and Propaganda Then and Now

Students will work to answer the question: "Why is art used as propaganda?” Research questions include: goals of propaganda, modern examples, and differences between ancient and modern use. This engaging activity from the J. Paul Getty Museum fosters critical thinking about the influence of art on public perception. 

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NewsGuard logo displayed on a laptop screen, emphasizing its role as a media literacy tool that helps users identify trustworthy news sources.

NewsGuard: A Free Media Literacy Tool

NewsGuard offers tools and resources to help users spot misinformation and develop media literacy skills. NewsGuard provides trust ratings for 7,500+ news and information sites – written by trained journalists based on nine apolitical journalistic criteria. This tool tells you what standards each site uses in creating its content, who’s behind the site, how it’s funded, and whether you can trust it. It's also a free benefit for AFT members.

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Media literacy tools including a viewer response journal and data analysis graphic, emphasizing skills in critical thinking and data interpretation.

Anti-Bias Education: Using Media to Foster Critical Thinking and Combat Antisemitism and Islamophobia

This webinar with Journeys in Film highlights key aspects of anti-bias education and shares film-related resources specific to antisemitism and Islamophobia. This includes highlighting a lesson regarding antisemitism, which places antisemitism within the context of the rise of white supremacy, especially in the U.S. This session also highlights films and film-related resources that offer students a broader understanding of Islam and the Muslim world and discuss the value and importance of "windows and mirrors" in educational spaces to support student self-esteem and learning.

Register now
"Navalny" documentary poster, highlighting media literacy education through the exploration of political propaganda and investigative journalism.

Freedom of the Press in a Changing Media Landscape: Teaching Journalism Ethics via Navalny and The Post

How can you teach about the freedom of the press in a constantly changing media landscape? Read this blog with free resources from Journeys in Film and explore journalism ethics, mis- and disinformation, and learning guides for Navalny and The Post.

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Digital graphic featuring terms like "disinformation" and "fake news" in a green and black matrix style, emphasizing the importance of media literacy in identifying and combating misinformation.

How AI-Generated Misinformation Threatens Election Integrity

From robocalls to deep fakes, artificial intelligence is already playing a role in the 2024 election. This PBS NewsHour Classroom resource explores questions like: "Why did the Federal Communications Commission rule that robocalls (automated political ads over the phone) using AI content are illegal?" and "What are some of the ways AI might be used in the coming election to confuse or misinform voters?"

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Lesson plan detailing goals and strategies for teaching media literacy, focusing on identifying bias, analyzing sources, and creating awareness about fake news.

Spreading Fake News

This particular unit and the four  lessons address the spread of fake news and make connections with the theme of "Freedom of the Press" with an emphasis on the question: What can schools do to educate for media literacy and the critical consumption of information provided by the media?

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Instagram logo with a background featuring icons and symbols representing political misinformation, including fake news articles, false information warnings, and social media posts, highlighting the spread of misinformation on social media platforms.

Is Instagram’s Political Content Limitation a Recipe for Silence or Progress?

Instagram’s recent introduction of a feature limiting political content on its social media platform reflects a broader shift away from actively recommending such content. Users now must manually adjust their settings to view political posts from accounts they do not follow, aligning with Instagram’s aim to offer a more personalized experience. However, concerns have arisen regarding potential biases and their impact on political discourse. Read more from this blog from Close Up and learn more about developments with misinformation and social media.

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A vintage image of Madonna in a contemplative pose, surrounded by people, used in a TeachRock lesson on the history of music videos, highlighting the evolution of sound and image in media.

From "Illustrated Songs" to the Music Video: A History of Sound and Image

This lesson plan guides students through the evolution of music videos, analyzing sound and image relationships, and evaluating media's societal impact. This resource from TeachRock is perfect for enhancing media literacy and critical thinking in your students, offering engaging and informative classroom discussions on multimedia content.

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Lesson plan titled "What is Bias in AI?" covering the impact of artificial intelligence on society, its potential biases, and educational activities for grades K-12. Includes lesson overview, learning objectives, and alignment with Common Core standards.

What is Bias in AI?

This two-part lesson from ADL provides an opportunity for students to understand what AI is and how we use AI in our lives, reflect on the possible risks and rewards of AI, consider how bias can take place in AI and explore possible guidelines and guardrails to maximize how AI can be used with minimal bias or harm.

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Lesson plan titled "What Is AI?" for grades 6-12, detailing a 15-minute video lesson on artificial intelligence, its benefits, and drawbacks, emphasizing AI literacy and preparation for digital spaces.

AI Literacy: Preparing Students for Digital Spaces

After this webinar, you will leave with practical resources for digital citizenship, lesson plans, and strategies to mitigate the potential harms of generative AI in school communities. Through these lessons, students will:

  • Understand what AI is and how it works
  • Consider some of its potential benefits and risks
  • Think critically about how we can be responsible and ethical users of AI
Register now
A worker in a recycling facility wearing a red safety vest examines machinery, illustrating the complexities of plastic recycling and the industry's misleading practices over decades.

How the Plastic Industry Knowingly Pushed Recycling Myth for Decades

The world produces an average of 430 million metric tons of plastic each year. The United States alone produces tens of millions of tons of plastic waste annually. Yet on average, only about 5 to 6 percent of plastic in the U.S. is recycled. In this lesson, students discuss a new report on the plastic industry’s tactics to push recycling and avoid regulation. 

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A Media-Literate Future

As we stand on the border of the growing digital frontier, it’s crucial that we advocate for comprehensive media literacy education in every school. Engage with policymakers, participate in educational forums, and share your insights and successes in media literacy on social platforms (don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Facebook. Every voice matters in shaping a curriculum that not only informs but also transforms.

Reflecting on my journey from a curious child in the early years of the internet to an adult constantly trying to keep up with new technologies, I see a common thread—a quest for understanding and meaning. Media literacy is more than just a subject; it’s a critical life skill that empowers our students to navigate their futures confidently. Together, we can commit not only to teaching media literacy but also to championing it as a cornerstone of education in the 21st century.

By adopting a proactive and comprehensive approach to media literacy, we can ensure our students are not only consumers of media but also critical thinkers who can discern, dissect and discuss the complex media landscape they inherit. Let’s help by equipping them with the tools they need not just to survive but also to thrive in the world of tomorrow.

Media Literacy Resources

Empower your students with the media literacy skills they need to be critical digital citizens with these lesson plans, guides, and professional learning resources.

Andy Kratochvil
Andy Kratochvil is an SML team member who loves hiking, video games, scary books, Mexican food, and finding great content for the Share My Lesson community. He studied political science and French at California State University, Fullerton and received his Master’s in International Affairs from... See More

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