A new California law requires social media companies to disclose how they monitor hate speech and misinformation as efforts to improve media literacy in schools continue.
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As an Arab Muslim woman teaching in California for the past decade, I have heard more hate and misinformation about my culture and faith than I care to remember.
Social media is where most misinformation starts. It spreads across California every day, from climate change conspiracy theories to rumors aimed at undermining public health protections, or the hate speech that led to an attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi.
Fortunately, California is increasingly fighting back. Governor Gavin Newsom this year signed House Bill 587, which requires social media companies to publicly explain their efforts to prevent hate speech, misinformation and extremism. Platforms are required to submit detailed reports of how they police themselves to the California attorney general’s office twice a year.
State Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, D-Burbank, said the purpose of the bill is to encourage social media companies to think about the role they play in public discourse and the harm they cause.
Patrolling the digital discourse is only one part of it. California educators are also trying to promote media literacy among younger generations, such as millennials and Gen Z – digital natives who have only known the information age.
Since 2018, the California Department of Education has been providing online learning materials to help young people develop a wide range of digital age skills. These include online privacy, cyberbullying prevention and disinformation detection, including how to spot fake news.
Identifying misinformation is especially important for young people. A Stanford University study found that more than 80% of high school students cannot tell the difference between online advertising and news, citing the need for stronger media literacy programs.
In my classes, I use tools from the Department of Education to help students develop tolerance, digital citizenship, and online civic thinking. In our debate, it is no surprise that tolerance starts with truthful information.
This is where California needs to improve.
Before immigrating to the Golden State, I lived in Syria, where a decade of civil war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced more than 7 million refugees. Disinformation and propaganda on social media promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin helped fuel the war.
One of the Internet’s greatest strengths is also its greatest weakness. Our interconnectedness unites us, but also makes us susceptible to lies created with the sole purpose of undermining civil discourse.
According to Californian conspiracy researchers, Putin’s cybersoldiers are countering online debate by spreading fake news about laser beams causing wildfires, casting doubt on COVID-19 vaccines and working non-stop to turn us against each other.
Recognizing the fog of fake news that distorts Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter begins with acknowledging that there is a problem. We do this in California, where our students are increasingly wary of browsing social media.
But everyone should be more vigilant, and lies should be pointed out. Spreading the truth depends on all of us. Fortunately, California is taking steps in the right direction.