Artificial Intelligence

Outside the Box: Did AI Fail the Media Literacy Test?

In “Outside the Box,” I interrogate ChatGPT to better understand how AI “reasons.” Today’s dialogue focused on the burning question of media literacy, which goes well beyond the commonly stated goal of rooting out disinformation.
robot reading

cartoon image of a robot reading a book © Mulyadi Walet /

May 27, 2024 05:57 EDT

Here is the prompt with which I began today’s conversation.

“There’s a lot of talk today about media literacy. My first reaction is to say, ‘It’s about time.’ My second reaction is to think this is really a complex topic, because it concerns not only the consumption of media but also its production. What are the major issues people have identified who are focused on this issue?”

Certainly! Media literacy is indeed a critical topic in our digital age. Let’s explore some of the major challenges that experts and policymakers have identified:

1. Complexity and Investment:

  • Complexity: Media literacy involves more than just understanding how to consume media; it encompasses critical thinking, evaluating sources, and understanding media production.
  • Investment: Implementing effective media literacy education requires significant resources, including time, effort, and infrastructure. It involves developing pedagogy, training teachers, creating curriculum resources, and establishing mechanisms for assessment¹.

2. Youth Participation:

Encouraging young people to actively engage with media content is crucial. Media literacy programs should empower them to create and share their own content responsibly.

3. Teacher Training and Curricular Resources:

Educators need proper training to teach media literacy effectively. Access to high-quality curricular resources is essential for designing engaging lessons.

4. Parental Support:

Parents play a vital role in fostering media literacy skills in their children. They need guidance on how to navigate the digital landscape and support their kids in critically evaluating media.

5. Policy Initiatives:

Governments and institutions should prioritize media literacy in their policies. This includes integrating it into educational systems and promoting awareness campaigns.

6. Evidence Base Construction:

Building a robust evidence base is essential. Researchers need to study the impact of media literacy programs and identify best practices².

7. Critical Approach to Literacy:

Media and Information Literacy (MIL) emphasizes a critical approach. It encourages people to question what they read, hear, and learn both inside and outside the classroom⁵.

Remember, media literacy isn’t just about understanding media—it’s about empowering individuals to navigate the digital world with discernment and critical thinking. By addressing these challenges, we can foster a more informed and media-literate society.

“Why do I get the impression that nearly everything you mention falls in the category of ‘good intentions’ with which I believe any reasonable person would agree? Yes, it should be iterated and reiterated, but it doesn’t help me to understand the underlying issue. Can we start by describing the nature of the problem it addresses. If we’re talking about media literacy as a goal, perhaps we should begin by describing media illiteracy, what it is, where it is found and how it has been allowed to develop. Where should we begin?”

Certainly! Let’s delve into the nature of media illiteracy and its impact. Media illiteracy refers to a lack of critical understanding and skills related to consuming, evaluating, and producing media content. Here are some key aspects:

1. Consumption Challenges:

Misinformation and Disinformation: Many people struggle to differentiate between reliable information and falsehoods. They may unknowingly share misleading content, contributing to the spread of misinformation.

Confirmation Bias: Individuals tend to seek out information that aligns with their existing beliefs, reinforcing biases and preventing them from critically evaluating alternative viewpoints.

Echo Chambers: Online platforms often create echo chambers where people interact primarily with like-minded individuals, limiting exposure to diverse perspectives.

2. Production Challenges:

Lack of Media Literacy Education: Formal education often neglects media literacy. As a result, people may lack the skills to create accurate, ethical, and engaging content.

Influence of Algorithms: Algorithms on social media platforms prioritize sensational or polarizing content, incentivizing creators to prioritize engagement over accuracy.

Clickbait and Sensationalism: Media illiteracy contributes to the proliferation of clickbait headlines and sensationalized stories, which can mislead audiences.

3. Where It Is Found:

General Public: Media illiteracy affects people of all ages, backgrounds, and education levels. It’s prevalent across societies.

Youth and Digital Natives: Younger generations, who grow up immersed in digital media, face unique challenges. They need guidance to navigate the online landscape effectively.

Vulnerable Communities: Disadvantaged groups may lack access to quality education and critical media literacy resources.

4. Development Factors:

Rapid Technological Changes: The digital revolution has transformed media consumption and production. Keeping up with these changes is essential.

Lack of Regulation: The absence of robust regulations around media content allows misinformation and harmful narratives to thrive.

Commercial Interests: Media companies sometimes prioritize profit over accuracy, leading to biased reporting and sensationalism.

5. Impact:

Democracy: Media illiteracy undermines informed democratic participation. Misinformed citizens may make decisions based on false information.

Social Cohesion: Misinformation can fuel social divisions and erode trust in institutions.

Individual Well-Being: Exposure to harmful content (e.g., conspiracy theories, hate speech) affects mental health and well-being.

Addressing media illiteracy requires a multifaceted approach, including education, regulation, and critical thinking. By promoting media literacy, we empower individuals to navigate the digital landscape more effectively and make informed choices.

Most of this response simply rehashes all the known symptoms and skirts around the disease: the dearth of critical thinking. I decided to ask the chatbot about how we got to where we are and then focus on the issue of critical thinking.

“There is a history of media illiteracy. How have we failed to foster critical thinking? It isn’t enough to say we have failed. We need to understand why, given all the tools and resources we now possess.”

Certainly! Let’s explore the historical context of media literacy and the factors contributing to the decline in critical thinking skills. Understanding these aspects can shed light on how we arrived at our current situation.

History of Media Literacy:

Media literacy has a fascinating history that spans several decades. Here are some key milestones:

1. Early Efforts (1920s-1930s):

The British Film Institute initiated media literacy education by teaching analytical skills to media users in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Simultaneously, the Wisconsin Association for Better Broadcasters in America aimed to make citizens more critical consumers of media¹.

2. Changing Goals (1960s):

Initially, media literacy efforts focused on protecting students from media by warning them against its consumption.

However, media dominance continued to grow, especially with the rise of television, even as interest in media literacy education waned¹.

3. Resurgence (Internet Era):

The advent of the internet and portable technologies led to renewed interest in media literacy.

The goal shifted from preventing media use to empowering informed, thoughtful media consumers¹.

4. Current Status:

Media literacy education is now accepted and successful in English-speaking countries like Australia, Canada, and Britain.

However, in the United States, a lack of centralized curriculum standards has resulted in an inconsistent approach to teaching practical media literacy skills.

The response continue by citing “Factors Contributing to Decline in Critical Thinking Skills,” which it divides into the following five categories. I spare the reader its rather banal breakdown of each of them.

Several factors play a role in the decline of critical thinking abilities:

1. Pressure on Faculty …

2. Technology Dependency …

3. Social Norms and Echo Chambers …

4. Educational System Challenges …

5. Rote Learning vs. Reasoning …

And, of course, it offers its conclusion.

In summary, understanding the historical context of media literacy and recognizing the challenges to critical thinking can guide us toward more effective solutions. By addressing these factors, we can foster a generation of informed, thoughtful individuals who navigate media and information with discernment and critical analysis.

This is a typical ChatGPT dog’s dinner of easy observations. I’d be tempted to call this a shining example of the absence of critical thinking. I’ll even suggest that, in its refusal to engage with the real question, it demonstrates the unacknowledged source of the problem: that the methodologies prized by our techno-culture have permitted “critical listing” to replace “critical thinking.”

I asked ChatGPT about history, a field of inquiry that requires critical thinking. Most people would agree that serious historians seek to explore how things are connected rather than simply contenting themselves with producing numerical lists of their features.

Your thoughts

Media literacy is a complex issue that goes well beyond the struggle against disinformation. We would love to hear from those who have a more nuanced take on what it is, where it comes from and how it might be solve. By all means, get back to us at Become a partner in our quest for collective reflection.

We’ll be pursuing this issue next week. Your reflections can be part of it.

*[Artificial Intelligence is rapidly becoming a feature of everyone’s daily life. We unconsciously perceive it either as a friend or foe, a helper or destroyer. At Fair Observer, we see it as a tool of creativity, capable of revealing the complex relationship between humans and machines.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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