Most people have probably noticed someone on social media promoting a false or misleading post, headline or theory. Although sometimes an individual does this with malicious intent, it is often that an individual promotes false or misleading information due to their inability to identify what is true on the Internet and what is not. This illustrates a lack of an important skill: information literacy. Eastern Kentucky University’s homeland security program is adding a new course intended to examine Mis-, Dis-, Mal-information (MDM) from a homeland security perspective.
In this new course, students will build valuable skills in assessing information on social media and other information sources. They will also gain experience practicing techniques for monitoring these sites, and expand their critical thinking and information literacy abilities.
Social Media as News Source
With the rise of social media, more people rely on it for entertainment as well as a primary news source. Although social media can provide real-time information on current events, it has also become a breeding ground for MDM.
In recent years, the increased use of social media by extremist individuals and groups, as well as the growth of conspiracy theories have caught law enforcement’s attention. In May 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Phoenix office identified conspiracy theories as a domestic terrorist threat after noticing how some used social media to spread extremism, which increased the likelihood of committing dangerous acts. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) formed the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to protect U.S. cybersecurity in part due to the increase in social media’s influence.
Importance of Information Literacy and Critical Thinking
Melinda Wenner Moyer wrote in Scientific American about the need for students to determine real information from false information online. In addition, they should also critically think about why something would be distributed. She found that most schools do not have any formal education on this topic. However, research shows those who receive instruction are less likely to believe conspiracy theories.
As the reliance on social media continues to grow, the need for information literacy is also growing. Information literacy is considered an important life-long skill. As such, future professionals in homeland security will need the ability to critically analyze information on social media in order to discern what is true and what is MDM.
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By: Amanda Campbell, Master of Arts in Student Personnel Services in Higher Education student