Fake news prevention has once again become a hot issue. Unfortunately, people keep talking past each other and there is a complete lack of agreement.
The right way of dealing with the fake news problem is for those in favor of freedom of expression and those in favor of legislation to continue their dialogue in search of common ground.
However, an urgent task that should be immediately addressed is education in media literacy.
This is the fundamental solution to the problem, and it is a preventative measure that is less controversial and that can be implemented promptly.
Unfortunately, in the discussion about fake news, the Ministry of Education, the authority best placed to implement such policies, has remained completely silent, as if the issue were none of its business — an astonishing reaction.
The ministry organizes more than 100 teacher workshops every year, ranging from courses for principals and deans-to-be to on-the-job training. If it could integrate media literacy training into such workshops and included fake news prevention, participants would surely become the best teachers of media literacy and the deconstruction of fake news, having an immeasurable influence on countless students.
Surely cyberbullying, infringing on human rights, videos that violate people’s privacy and the distribution of fake news that causes social unrest are mostly the result of mistakes made by younger generations because they lack an understanding of the innate character of the Internet, as well as the related laws — in other words, a lack of media literacy.
Perhaps many students’ ignorance is not a result of their schools’ unwillingness to teach media literacy. Instead, it could be because teachers lack training and simply do not know how to teach media literacy.
As a consequence, fake news has more serious consequences in Taiwan than in many other nations. Is this not a problem that people in education should face head-on?
In addition to holding teachers’ workshops, the ministry could also implement a nationwide contest to submit teaching plans aimed at preventing fake news. There must be passionate educators who would like to help solve this problem.
Innovative teaching plans from teachers in the classroom could serve as instruction materials for others, while the ministry could use the contest to stress the importance of responding to fake news and inspiring people’s creativity on how to do so.
Moreover, as the authority overseeing the Lifelong Learning Act (終身學習法), the ministry can take advantage of education for adults — such as social education halls, libraries and community colleges — to push for media literacy and the deconstruction of fake news, to make adults who heavily rely on social media aware of the dangers of spreading false information and the possibility of breaking the law.
As all sides continue to debate how to prevent the spread of fake news, from both preschool and school to lifelong learning, should the ministry not take responsibility and push for media literacy education and fake news prevention, as no other ministry can do so without causing much controversy?
Only when people understand that they should never spread information that cannot be verified can we turn the saying that “gossips and rumors will only be stopped by the wise” into a reality.
Chen Ping-hung is a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Mass Communication.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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