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The debate over how to fight disinformation in the digital age has divided leading experts and raised thorny questions about free speech and truth on the web.
Should Facebook ban political ads, as Twitter has done, or at least stop exempting politicians from its rules barring misinformation? Should social media platforms ban the "microtargeting" that allows politicians to hand pick narrow audiences while evading public scrutiny? Google recently took steps to limit microtargeting, but political players say that will just cut off small donors and hurt challengers.
Such dilemmas point to what may be the only real solution to the disinformation problem: Educating news consumers. The movement to revive civic learning has focused fresh attention on students' media literacy. But what about their parents and grandparents? Older Americans are even worse than students at distinguishing factual news from opinion news, studies have found, and are more likely to repost fraudulent stories. Yet adults have been largely left out of the push to tackle the "upstream" side of the misinformation explosion — the viewers and readers who make false stories "go viral."
That is starting to change. The News Literacy Project, whose digital Checkology curriculum now reaches educators in every state and in 110 countries, is rolling out today a new tool specifically aimed at both students and adults. The group's new mobile app, Informable, trains users how to sort truth from fiction with games that develop fact-checking and other news literacy skills. The app enables the group to expand "beyond the classroom" to reach the general public, NLP announced Monday.
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The study, which evaluated the media literacy ability of a diverse group of more than 3,000 high school students in 14 states, paints a sad portrait about the state of American civic education, with potentially millions of prospective young voters incapable of telling fact from fiction.