California teens use social media nonstop. Teaching media literacy in schools could protect them

This story appeared on Calmatters

The mobile social media application TikTok. Photo illustration by Da Qing, Reuters

In summary

As the first generation to grow up in a digital world, teens are susceptible to influencer marketing, staged content and misinformation. A legislative proposal would help add media literacy to K-12 education so California children are better equipped for life on social media.

Guest Commentary written by

Abagail Moffatt

Abagail Moffatt

Abagail Moffatt is a senior at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton. She is the co-founder of GetReal! a student-led initiative tackling media literacy for teens and tweens.

As a teen, social media is entrenched in everything we do. Conversations happen on Snapchat, experiences are curated on Instagram and entertainment is found on TikTok. As the first generation to grow up immersed in a digital world, it’s how we connect, share and learn about the world around us.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, up to 95% of young people ages 13-17 use a social media platform, nearly two-thirds use it daily and one-third report using social media “almost constantly.” Yet with our brains not fully developed until around the age of 25, the consequences of spending so much time online – coupled with the amount of misinformation, disinformation and cyberbullying – are approaching a calamity.

Influencer marketing, staged content and bogus news is making it nearly impossible for teens to determine what’s fake or real online. According to a September 2022 report by NewsGuard, which tracks online information, teen and young adult TikTok users are continuously consuming false information and misleading claims. NewsGuard’s investigation found that almost 20% of the videos it searched on various news topics contained misinformation.

Experts and regulators are taking notice. 

In May, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called for urgent action from policymakers, technology companies, researchers, families and young people to gain a better understanding of the full impact of social media use. “We must provide children and their families with the information and tools to navigate the changing digital environment,” he wrote in the 19-page advisory, “but this burden to support our children must be further shared.”

Cyberbullying is also on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center, the increased use of smartphones and social media has transformed how bullying occurs, with nearly half of U.S. teens ages 13-17 reportedly experiencing some form of cyberbullying.

Assembly Bill 873, authored by Menlo Park Assemblymember Marc Berman, attempts to equip young people with the media literacy skills by helping usher in a framework that could add media literacy into K-12 curriculum. 

I’m grateful that Assemblymember Berman is helping tackle this crisis and hope it gets signed into law, ensuring that California kids will be equipped with the necessary media literacy skills to navigate today’s digital world.

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