Encouraging Media Literacy in a Time of Misinformation

With terror attacks on everyday life now common across the world, teachers may struggle with how to tackle the difficult subject with their students. News stories are not always neutral or honest, and fear can lead to irresponsible and inaccurate conclusions. As educators, you have the particular challenge of presenting information, correcting misinformation, and being aware and responsive to the emotional repercussions in a safe environment. The Washington Post Education section recently featured an article on the subject worth a look, Schools grapple with how to teach about Paris attacks, with a contributor noting, “what children take away from those classroom lessons varies widely. The quality of the response depends a lot on the person who is responding. A teacher can do this very sensitively or very insensitively and some pretend it’s not happening at all.” Here are a few resources to help you navigate your children and students through both significant events such as the terror attacks, as well as more ongoing concerns such as racism and police violence.


Brown University’s Choices Program developed steps for teachers to address the 2015  attacks in Paris, the War in Syria, and other topics in sensitive, thoughtful and constructive ways that can also be applied to other global news events. Go here for further detail and materials appropriate for high school and college students.


Common Sense Media is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology. Families, educators, and policymakers turn to Common Sense for unbiased information and trusted advice to help them learn how to harness the positive power of media and technology for all kids. The NGO is dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology.  They also empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives. Below are some tips for developing media literacy for kids and teens who consume the news particularly around events and periods of heightened sensitivity and violence:

  1. Don’t believe everything you read — and other lessons for kids growing up with a 24/7 news cycle.
    When big news breaks, it’s easy to get caught up in following the news online. But while the Internet — from major news sites to Twitter — can be a valuable place to find useful information, it can also be the source of misinformation. Helping kids and teens understand the news and how to separate fact from fiction is an important job for parents and educators. Young people will feel unsafe and vulnerable in the wake of such tragedies. Learn how to mitigate the negative effects of media coverage that can have significant influence on anyone, especially children.
  2. Remember, breaking news is often wrong.
    In the rush to cover stories, reporters make mistakes, officials don’t always have correct information, and tidbits that sound plausible often get passed around before anyone can check for accuracy. One Texas TV station reported through closed captioning that Zooey Deschanel was one of the accused Boston Marathon bombers.
  3. Use social media wisely.
    Some say Twitter is a great source of news in the first few minutes of a tragedy, but after that it just gets messy and largely inaccurate. On the other hand, Facebook can be a great way to connect with friends affected by news and spread personal news within a more limited circle, for example: “I’ve heard from all my Boston-area family and everyone’s OK.” (Of course, news links posted by friends on Facebook might contain unverified information, so take them with a grain of salt.)
  4. Be skeptical.
    If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. After the Boston Marathon bombing, NBC Sports reported that some runners kept running all the way to the hospital to donate blood for the victims. Not true. There are plenty of websites devoted to debunking fake news stories, like Snopes, Urban Legends Online, Truth or Fiction, and Factcheck. Visit them to find out if a story is true or not.
  5. Stand back, take a break.
    With social media at your fingertips, it’s tempting to weigh in with your opinion or pass along every tidbit that comes along. But restraint is necessary to avoid adding to the noise and confusion. We like the reasonable approach taken by NPR reporter Steve Inskeep, who cautioned listeners during the Boston Marathon aftermath, “We are collecting dots. It’s a day to be careful about connecting them.”
  6. Stick with credible news sources.
    News sources that claim to have all the answers or jump to conclusions about why something happened are just adding to the fray. And remember that cable news channels make money off the news — the more titillating the story, the more eyeballs watch, the more money they make. This wikihow offers a primer on how to determine the credibility of a source.
  7. Keep it age appropriate.
    Younger teens and kids aren’t always ready to digest big tragic news — especially if it seems to affect kids, like school shootings or abuse scandals. The constant repetition of information can be overwhelming and confusing for younger kids, and in the beginning of a news event, parents might not be able to offer any reassuring answers right away. Kids who are eager to learn more about certain events can check kid-oriented news sources.

    Author: Sierra Filucci, Executive Editor of Parenting Content, Common Sense Media

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