February 01, 2017

Lawmaker wants Pennsylvania students to be taught how to recognize fake news

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is seeking co-sponsors for legislation that would provide media literacy for students throughout grade and high school in an effort to fight the effects of fake news.

State Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, introduced a memo Monday about the potential legislation. The bill would require a media literacy course to be added to social sciences curriculums for grades 1 through 12.

Briggs said in his memo that people's opinions should be grounded in facts "regardless of a person’s political affiliation," pointing to the dissemination of fake news stories that circulated widely during the 2016 election.

Per Briggs' memo:

The sophistication in how this false information is disguised and spread can make it very difficult for someone, particularly young people, to determine fact from fiction. Accordingly, I believe resources should be made available to help them understand how to analyze the media they consume. College courses are currently being developed to this end, but adding this to the curriculum for grades 1 through 12 would be much more effective.

In a press release Wednesday, Briggs said that the amount of effort that goes into misleading people through fake news is "frightening." 

“There are also those who call legitimate news stories fake news simply because they don’t like what it says," Briggs said, seemingly taking a shot at President Donald Trump.

The still-to-be-written legislation already has five co-sponsors, according to Chris Fetterman, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus: Reps. Bob Freeman, Donna Bullock, Stephen Kinsey, Harry Readshaw and Dom Costa.

The spread of fake news during the most recent campaign season had real consequences. In December, a 28-year-old North Carolina man allegedly fired an assault weapon inside a Washington, D.C. pizza shop, claiming he was there to self-investigate a false conspiracy theory that purports a child sex trafficking ring was being run by prominent Democrats out of the restaurant.

The inability of social media outlets to filter and suppress fake news stories has been identified as a major reason for the spread of fake stories. Facebook, in particular, has taken plenty of heat but has announced steps since the election to address the problem.

Facebook said in December it had employed the services of six websites, including University of Pennsylvania-based FactCheck.org, to aid in flagging fake stories. That process has reportedly been going slowly.