As many of you know, I’ve been working for the past couple of years on youth internet health and education issues. While the stereotype is that younger = tech savvier, that’s not strictly true. Younger kids may be better acquainted with the internet, may use it more, and may feel more comfortable with it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the cognitive skills or experience to differentiate between manipulative content, unreliable content, and good content.
How many of you, as adults, have been tricked into clicking on a deceptive banner ad that looked like genuine content? How many of you have started reading a site, only to realize after 30 seconds or so that it’s a biased advocacy job thinly disguised as objective fact?
The online environment has wreaked havoc on the signals we traditionally used to assess the accuracy of information – the reputation of the speaker, the magnitude of publisher investment in disseminating the material, the basic design features we associate (justifiably or not) with reliable content. That’s good, in that many unheard voices can now make themselves known (w00t, bloggers!) But it’s also a tricky environment for adults, much less three-year-olds who wander off Club Penguin into the wilds. That’s why online literacy has to be an important part of education.
If any of you know of any good initiatives to study, improve or assess online literacy, please leave a link in the comments on this post. And if you know of any with a safety component, consider directing them to this Call for Descriptions of Online Safety Programs from Harvard’s Berkman Center.
Personally, I think critical thinking skills = safety = preparation for a quality science education. So what are we (bloggers, scientists, writers, the internet community) doing about it right now? Let me know. . .