Exposing the Bias in Media Literacy ‘Education’

Published October 9, 2020

Those of us who write for a living know exactly how to wring emotions from readers, and video/audio producers are experts at leveraging shock and awe to gain desired reactions. Coupled together, today’s technology-based media is complex by its very nature.

Emotional responses are boosted and reinforced by sophisticated, repetitious methods conceived specifically for control of individuals’ perceptions of reality. The newest artificial intelligence algorithms build on decades of such experience, and lull us into a false belief that we can determine the truth of any narrative.

That has led to an opening for the highfalutin-sounding “Media Literacy Week” to grow unabated for six years with its clear agenda of determining what are facts versus fake statements in online content. Their dedication to fight misinformation has morphed into demands for racial equity and social justice, taught and implemented behind the scenes through our K-12 educators, librarians, and mainstream media outlets. Proud sponsors this year: Facebook, Amazon, TikTok, among others.

Running from October 26-30, Media Literacy Week’s online resources point to lessons on Black Lives Matter protests, the history of policing, LGBTQ+ Identity toolkits, institutionalized racism, and thought leaders’ perspectives of cultural and gender marginalization in advertising.

The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) is the driving coordinator of the message and education of what is to be determined right or wrong, true or false, politically correct or immoral. Their website states that “issues of race, social justice, equity, and inclusion are central to media literacy education and always have been.”

How any of this teaches literacy, defined by Merriam-Webster as “knowledge that relates to a specified subject,” is mind-boggling.

Developing media literacy seems to be a pretty straightforward task: introduce people to the basics of the concepts behind news and information, including how and most importantly why it might be manipulated through a variety of sensory inputs, then let learners apply their knowledge to a whole range of topics and examples.

When we teach reading, we don’t limit what can and should be read, nor tout a political agenda as part of every utterance. As a child, newspaper comic strips and breakfast cereal boxes introduced me to words and phrases not common in my home environment, serving as a foundation for comprehending academic papers and composing corporate messaging. Likewise, media literacy could include exposure to the entire range of technology, platforms, ideas, and opinions without worrying about the topic itself, only how to recognize the influence of each methodology so that the learner can choose, adapt, and respond accordingly over time and experience.

This year’s events for Media Literacy Week instead encompass all things political, from Facebook’s focus on educating first time voters to Stanford teaching civic online reasoning; watching Amazon-produced All In: The Fight for Democracy to transgender social and political repression in Netflix’s documentary, Disclosure.

Media literacy skills, like science, math, and reading, have no inherent link to politics or a particular ideology, nor should they. Muddying the education of our children, as well as adult immigrants who want to learn about their adopted country, by pushing a liberal political agenda apparently hasn’t been limited to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States or The New York Times’ The 1619 Project. It permeates our virtual classrooms and conference rooms, training sessions and reference materials, leading to liberal activism on the streets and in the voting place as the next logical, and purposefully planned, step.

What is needed, instead, is to teach critical thinking and humbly acknowledge that we are human, with prejudices and misperceptions. In all the finger-pointing of bias from every side, I wonder how many so-called experts, educators, and yes, even media folks, take the time to seek out and reflect upon their own internal predispositions.

If your children participate in this innocuous-sounding program, please join with them to check the media experts’ premises, if they provide objective standards, or even reference the etymology of words used in today’s click-bait headlines. We all need to ensure that our communications are clear and accurate rather than vague and triggering.