The use of social media to spread misinformation and disinformation poses a serious threat to our democracy. Just this past year we saw a surge in foreign and domestic campaigns that sought to spread falsehoods, foment distrust and discord, and destabilize the U.S. in various ways; this even included attempts to influence our national elections. These challenges to our democracy must be addressed, not just in the short term, but also via the ‘long game,’ starting with educating our nation’s youth.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace surveyed 85 studies and reports published by 51 different think-tanks and organizations, and discovered that, by far, the most frequently recommended policy action to battle against mis- and disinformation was to raise the digital literacy of those who consume that information.
Combining digital literacy and civics, cyber citizenship builds skills for engaging in civil discourse in our increasingly digital world. It is not just about being able to find information online (which is all too easy), but also about one’s ability to analyze and evaluate that information, consider the source, and gauge bias. Think of such skills as a kind of vaccine to help people avoid falling prey to disinformation. It won’t be the end of the threat, but it can make individuals, and thus our society as a whole, much more resilient against it.
The Cyber Citizenship Education partnership was formed in 2020 by the Florida Center for Cybersecurity (Cyber Florida) and New America with support from the Florida Center for Instructional Technology to face this problem by building a community of advocates and connecting tools to needs. Funded with an initial grant from Cyber Florida, the program has
- Built a network of partnerships across groups that ranged from Florida universities to the National Association for Media Literacy Education to the International Society for Technology in Education
- Created a working group of educators, policymakers and practitioners who share a common interest in improving the cyber citizenship skills of our nation’s K-12 students. Groups represented ranged from high school teachers to tech policy experts to even the National Security Agency
- Published a report scanning existing tools and curricula for their connection to the science of learning, and
- Developed a Cyber Citizenship Portal, a first-ever searchable database of digital literacy instructional materials that can be sorted and searched by grade level, efficacy, affordability and accessibility. To be available through both the Cyber Florida and New America websites, the portal will provide educators ready access to needed resources.