From January 1 2024, California public schools will begin teaching courses in media literacy, where students will learn to identify and distinguish valid news platforms and articles, paid advertising, and understand the impact of fake news in society.
The new syllabus will gradually be introduced into the main curriculum for all students from kindergarten through high school. It comes under Assembly Bill 873, authored by Assembly member Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in October. California joins a growing number of states — including Delaware, New Jersey, and Texas — to already adopt media literacy courses into their all-age curricula.
Media literacy content will be integrated into a range of subjects including: English language arts, mathematics, science, history, and social sciences.
According to Berman, the law has become a necessity to combat young people’s growing reliance on social media and internet platforms as news sources. Despite strict guidelines on harmful content, platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter) allow users to post freely — often with little distinction between opinion and fact — outside of official profiles from verified news sources.
A study carried out by Stanford University in 2021, found that less than one-tenth of 1% of American high school students in 2019 could identify the legitimate source of a video alleging voter fraud in an American election. The video was actually filmed in Russia. In contrast, according to a separate Stanford study published in April 2022, high school students who attended six 50-minute lessons in digital media literacy were twice as likely to spot questionable websites and news sources.
Berman explained, “Teaching media literacy is a key strategy to support our children, their families, and our society that are inundated with misinformation and disinformation on social media networks and digital platforms. We have a responsibility to teach the next generation to be more critical consumers of online content and more guarded against misinformation, propaganda, and conspiracy theories.”
According to the new law, the syllabus will focus largely on critical thinking skills while “developing strategies to strengthen digital citizenship.”
The new legislation asserts the notion that young Californians will be properly equipped to make informed decisions over which news sources to trust, as its reach and influence is only expected to increase in coming years.
“As we’ve seen too often in the last decade, what happens online can have the most terrifying of real-world impacts,” Berman said. “From climate denial to vaccine conspiracy theories to the Jan. 6 attack on our nation’s Capitol, the spread of online misinformation has had global and deadly consequences.”