October 26, 2018

How do you stop the spread of fake news? It’s not a one-step process. It’s not a three-step process.

Media literacy is a multifaceted evolution that should start with young people: digital natives, Gen Zers, middle- and high-school students, Instagram users.

And Poynter is betting on it.

MediaWise — a collaboration between Poynter and Stanford History Education Group and funded by Google — hosted its first-ever in-person event, Oct. 25 at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Be MediaWise Workshop for Teens” aimed to start a conversation among high schoolers about how to become smarter consumers of news and information.

“Do you know anyone who has shared something that wound up being false?” asked MediaWise multimedia reporter Hiwot Hailu. Everyone, including Hailu, raised their hands. Some of the professional fact-checkers in attendance sheepishly put up a hand.

The evening session walked local teenagers and their parents, plus a few journalism professionals, through a series of examples. Attendees gleaned tips on how to stop the spread of bad information they see online and be a force for good in debunking hoaxes.

“I’m always getting stories from my friends, and wondering if they’re true,” said Tim Kelly, 51, of St. Petersburg. “Now I know how to tell.”

His son, Zachary, 11, goes to St. Petersburg Christian School. Kelly said he’s glad his son has this information before he starts using social media in a big way. Tips that stood out to him were looking at a URL’s credibility and reverse Google image searches.

“Watching all the students sitting and working together, trying to figure out what was real and what was fake from the examples … it was awesome,” said Katy Byron, editor and MediaWise manager. “This format of interactive teaching using Instagram polling, Snapchat filters and real internet examples had them all engaged and actively participating, just as we had hoped.”

A group of five girls attended the event from Lakewood High School’s Spartan News Network newspaper.

“One thing I liked was how forward it was,” Angel Laclaustra, 16, said after the event ended. She said the interactive presentation was “very 21st century.”

“With Instagram stories, it was very in-tuned with what I’m used to,” Cristin Thomas, 18, said.

“I liked the Instagram polls,” her classmate Julianna Raymond, 16, added.

Zhannarria Mohagany, 17, and Vivian Mañon, 17, were also at the event from Lakewood High.

From left: Lakewood High School Journalism students Vivian Mañon, Zhannarria Mohagany, Angel Laclaustra, Cristin Thomas and Julianna Raymond at the “Be MediaWise Workshop for Teens” at the Poynter Institute on Oct. 25, 2018.


“Many students and teachers came up to me after the event and talked about the tools they learned and how they feel like now they can better discern what’s real and what’s not online,” Byron said. “That’s exactly what we want, and what we plan to replicate with these events across the country with this project,” she added.

You can stay connected with the happenings of MediaWise by following on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

The Florida Humanities Council, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanties sponsored Thursday's event.

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