Cyber Civics Offers Lessons Essential to Future Voters

How to talk to kids about this presidential election is big news (a Google search for this topic yielded 3,650,000 results). Certainly this is important, but personally I’m tired of talking to anybody about this election and more interested in turning the event into one big fat teachable moment that will help these future voters. The past 18 months have vividly demonstrated the pivotal role that media, in all its forms, plays in both shaping public opinion and driving citizens apart from one another. According to Pew Research Center, a majority of U.S. adults—62%—get their news via social media, filling a void left by fewer and fewer newspapers where real editors check for quaint items like facts and truth. In addition to being fed a media diet that includes a generous helping of bull, our consumption is further distorted by social media that largely reinforces our existing worldviews, which is why so many woke up scratching their heads last Wednesday morning. While it’s convenient to blame Mark Zuckerberg for this phenomenon, the truth is we should be smarter about how today’s “media” works, otherwise we find ourselves in a connected world that’s more disconnected than ever. That’s why students need and deserve a relevant civics education that teaches them how citizenship and government is influenced by “media” they will increasingly make and share. Here’s what future voters should know: Future Voters Should Know That With Rights Come Responsibilities. While the First Amendment grants citizens the right to freedom of speech, today more than ever it is important for students to understand that with this right comes a tremendous responsibility. That’s because when we “speak” on social media we potentially reach and influence large invisible audiences. For example, just this week a woman in West Virginia referred to Michelle Obama as “an ape in heels” in a Facebook post that quickly spread across the U.S. and to international media outlets. While the author of the post did apologize, the Internet was not so forgiving. An online petition was quickly circulated and the woman (plus the local mayor who responded favorably to the post) both lost their jobs. This incident provides an excellent example of how important it is to teach students about the responsibility that accompanies the right to free speech.

Future Voters Must Learn “Media Literacy” Skills (this is the ability to be a critical media consumer and producer). In Education Week’s “3 Critical Competencies for the Future - Preparing Students to Thrive in 2020,” author Beth Holland identifies “media literacy” as the first of three critical competencies imperative to a student’s future success. Holland writes,

LIVE video and social media dominated this election. It turned every citizen into an unfiltered, un-fact-checked reporter of political events. Combined with Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, blogs, and even the major media outlets, technology presented a plethora of biased - and unbiased - views that had neither editing nor filtering. This phenomenon gave us an Internet littered with fake news.

Even though Facebook and Google