‘Real or not’: San Jose students support social media bill
Willow Glen High School students Melissa Anicua (right) and Arianna Dominguez (left) said it's sometimes hard to tell what's true on social media. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Teens in San Jose said the line between truth and lies is becoming harder to define on social media and distinguishing the difference would be welcome. One state legislator wants to make that happen.

    Assemblymember Marc Berman authored a bill that will require schools to incorporate media literacy into K-12 classes in every subject. AB 873, which passed unanimously in the Assembly, is currently in the Senate Education Committee.

    Willow Glen High School student Melissa Anicua said some of her friends suffered from cyberbullying while playing online video games, and others had their social media accounts hacked and received fake texts. She said classes on media literacy could help differentiate what is real and what is fake.

    “You can’t really tell if (the information is) real or not,” she told San José Spotlight. “I feel like it’s just helpful to know so you don’t get confused on things and think bad stuff about people.”

    Lisa Whitfield, chair of the psychology department at Santa Clara University, said it’s beneficial to have students engage in developmentally appropriate lessons about how to evaluate claims that come from the media. But she cautions against making them feel every source is untrustworthy and urges input from scientists and educators.

    Berman said as the spread of misinformation has become increasingly pervasive, it’s essential young people view information through a critical lens. They need to know how to do their own research to confirm or deny the media they’re exposed to, he said. He hopes by integrating media literacy into all subjects, it’ll help students put misinformation into context and lessens its personal effect.

    “Young people are getting the majority of their news from social media and the internet,” he told San José Spotlight. “They are getting bombarded with misinformation, conspiracy theories and lies on a daily basis.”

    Arianna Dominguez, a student at Willow Glen High School, said social media makes people feel they have to look or be a certain way to like themselves.

    “It causes mental problems, especially for young people,” she said. “If they know that those things aren’t real, then it would probably help them release a lot of stress.”

    Katy Bruchmann, associate professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, said although a bill like this would help, social media misinformation can stick. She said cyberbullying research suggests it’s associated with mental health, body image issues and even physical health issues in adolescents.

    “Learning that something is fake after reading it and processing it doesn’t really help,” she told San José Spotlight. “People will still believe what they read. But one thing that does seem to help a little bit is inoculating people against misinformation ahead of time. It sounds like this bill would incorporate these techniques in the classroom, which would be great, if successful.”

    This isn’t the first time the state Legislature has addressed social media. In 2018 state lawmakers passed SB 830 to create social media literacy guidelines. It requires the California Department of Education to provide school districts with an online list of resources, instructional materials and development programs for teachers.

    More than 90% of young adults use social media, and the majority were confused by fabricated news, according to data in SB 830. It also cited a Stanford University study which said 82% of middle school students struggle to distinguish advertisements from news stories.

    Berman said his bill takes media literacy to the next step and ensures it’s used in the classroom. He feels there is no time to waste.

    “I’m terribly concerned about the amount of misinformation, conspiracy theories and outright lies that are flying across social media and flying across the internet,” he said, “and the real-life impact that its having on our communities and our society. We need to make sure the next generation knows how to identify and dismiss misinformation. We can’t wait any longer.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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