14 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY FEBRUARY 8-14, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com Thinking Big The first step in overcoming the challenges to American democracy is cultivating media literacy. By Susan Meister FORUM When the history of this extraordinary era of divisiveness in American society is finally written, the conclusion is likely to be that it was mainly caused by the widespread distribution of false news. Disinformation is affecting nearly every segment of human interchange—politics, public health, the environment, consumer welfare—leaving almost no category of discourse untouched. It is spread by internet sites enabled via algorithms to find and focus on specific audiences, and one of the most heavily targeted is students— those sitting in our classrooms now, who one day will determine the country’s future. Disinformation is defined as information of a misleading or biased nature, meant to promote a particular point of view. In its many manifestations, such propaganda can be disguised as legitimate news stories, difficult to detect. That is where media literacy comes in: the ability to critically analyze information and determine its accuracy or credibility. It is the most potent weapon we have in this era of fake news. This threat has recently been addressed by the state. A bill sponsored by Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, just took effect in January. AB 873 requires the teaching of media literacy in all grade levels from K-12, eventually integrating it in math, science, history and English. To accelerate the benefits of the new bill for Monterey County students, a group of community activists and educators has come together to promote it, first among high school students and later in all grade levels. The newly formed Media Literacy Coalition—comprising an elected official, academics, journalists, librarians and a deputy superintendent of the Monterey County Office of Education, as well as Monterey County Weekly—is sponsoring a half-day immersion in media literacy training modeled after the event originated by the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public. “Misinfo Day,” scheduled for May 7, will be the first similar program to take place in California for 11th- and 12th-grade students and their teachers. While young people are heavily impacted, all age groups are affected. That is why the Media Literacy Coalition therefore intends to develop initiatives that will engage the community at large, audiences of varying ages and backgrounds who could benefit from media literacy training. The goal is to help the community become resilient to disinformation—people will know how to identify it, and be encouraged to correct it through public comment, protests to local newspapers, and their votes. National Media Literacy Week, Oct. 21-25, will focus on the importance of this subject, just ahead of the November election, when disinformation is expected to be at its peak. There will be local events that will promote the importance of distinguishing between facts and propaganda. A democratic society relies on that vital skill. Susan Meister is a journalist and community activist. Email susanmeist@gmail.com about volunteer opportunities for Misinfo Day. OPINION Media literacy is the most potent weapon we have. “As your Supervisor, I will fight for affordable housing, renter protections, sheriff’s oversight, greater transparency, & community engagement.” Monterey City Council Member Board Member Professor Elect Dr. Alan Haffa Monterey County Supervisor www.electhaffa.org Paid for by Haffa for Supervisor 2024, FPPC #1461306 FRESH. LOCAL. TASTY. Fisherman’s Wharf FRESHEST SEAFOOD with PANORAMIC VIEWS Open Daily at 11:30am • At the end of Fisherman’s Wharf #1 www.rockfishmonterey.com • 831.324.4375 LIVE MUSIC Wednesdays 5–7:30pm