Understanding Digital Media Literacy: How to Evaluate Online Sources and Deep Fakes

Trust But Verify

We have spent this school year discussing digital citizenship, AI in the classroom and ChatGPT

Digital media literacy is another hot topic. Finding time to add more classes is difficult for any school. There are only so many hours in a day. Language Arts and Math are extremely important. And then you need science and history. Getting it all to fit is a puzzle. 

Yet we are hearing from business leaders and Governors around the country that computer science must be taught. But what is computer science? And where does digital literacy fit in with it all? 

Some are trying to share the importance of digital media literacy being taught in schools and others saying that only computer science needs to be taught because students are digital natives. 

Let’s start with some definitions: 

Digital literacy’s definition is broad. It refers to the ability to use and understand digital technology, including computers, smartphones, tables, and other digital devices It also includes the ability to access, analyze, and evaluate digital information. Digital literacy involves a range of skills, from basic computer skills to more advanced skills such as coding, digital design, spreadsheets and AI. It also includes the ability to navigate and understand digital media, including social media, websites, digital collaboration tools, and problem-solving. 

Computer science on the other hand, is a discipline that focuses on theories and the technical aspects of computing. This can include programming languages, algorithms, software engineering, and computer hardware. It emphasized abstract thinking, problem-solving, and developing computer systems and applications. 

Digital literacy is primarily concerned with the use of digital technology.  Computer science is more focused on the technical and theoretical underpinnings of computing. Both are essential on some level. Just like the basics of math is a necessary skill, the basics of computer science is helpful to have introduced in the younger grades. Not everyone needs to become a computer scientist, but in today’s world, everyone needs to have digital literacy skills. And one primary skill is digital media literacy.

Digital media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create digital content in a thoughtful and responsible way. As we spend more and more time online, we are relying on digital media for a majority of our information. Therefore it’s essential to develop the skills to critically evaluate online sources to ensure that we are accessing accurate and reliable information. 

Digital media literacy is essential for several reasons. Firstly, we live in a world where technology is rapidly evolving, and digital media is becoming increasingly prominent. Secondly, the internet has become a primary source of information for many people. We must be able to distinguish between accurate and misleading information. Thirdly, digital media is a powerful tool for communication, and we must learn how to use it effectively and responsibly.

So how do we evaluate online sources? 

1 Consider the source. When evaluating an online source, start by considering the source. Who published the information? What are their credentials? Is the website affiliated with a reputable organization, or is it an individual’s personal blog? Over the past few years sites are being created to look like reputable news sources. So details matter. Make sure the source is coming from an actual authoritative source. Research the organization that the information is coming from to determine its credibility. There are fake news article generators that are intended to disinform. 

2 Check for bias. It’s difficult not to have a bias. Most people have a world view or lens they look through for their information. A while back I was with my sister, niece and her boyfriend. All three were at the same place and all three had different accounts of what happened where they were. All three have a different lens of how they interpret events. We all have some bias of some sort. Because we have had different experiences. Yet, there are some who want to intentionally persuade you. Consider if the article is looking for ‘clickbait’.  If the information is persuasive, consider the author’s motives. Most importantly, look for alternative sources to confirm the information presented. 

3 Verify the information. When evaluating an online source, verify the information presented. Check to see if the information is supported by other sources, and ensure that the sources are credible. Look for data and statistics to support the claims made. Look through the works cited in the article. Determine where the information came from. 

4 Examine the writing.  Examine the writing to determine if it is professional and well-written. Poor grammar and spelling errors can be a sign of an untrustworthy source. Discover the tone and language of the article. Are facts presented or is there language that is sensational, as sensational language can be a sign of bias or an attempt to persuade the reader

5 Check the date. Check the date to ensure that the information is up-to-date. Old information may no longer be relevant or accurate. 

6 Look for expertise. When I think of this I think of two things. First remember the old commercials that said I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night. The second is I think of what me and my friends have come to call ‘Dr. Google.’ Many are so confident of their Google research or themselves that they sound like experts. They are confident and sure. Ask yourself, ‘Is the author an expert in the field, or are they simply offering their opinion? Google is helpful, but it is not in place of being an expert in the field they are discussing. 

7 Consider the purpose. Consider the purpose of the information presented. Is it intended to inform, educate, or persuade? Understanding the purpose can help you evaluate the information presented and determine its credibility. 

8 Be on the lookout for deep fake photos and videos.  With today’s technology, it’s not only text that can disseminate misinformation.  Photos, videos, and meme’s can be edited, modified, or even AI genertated, to look like the real thing, in order to trick you into thinking what you are looking at is real when in fact is fabricated or grossly edited.  These “deep fakes” look eerily real.

Using these tips we all can improve our ability to spot fake news and make informed decisions about the information we consume and share. It’s essential to be thoughtful about the news we read and verify the information before sharing it with others.

Digital media literacy is essential for accessing accurate and reliable information online. It’s important to use critical thinking skills when evaluating news sources. We all can use a refresher on it and it’s an essential tool to teach our students.

Keep yourself and your staff up to date.

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