By Stacy M. Brown

California has enacted a law mandating the inclusion of media literacy education in the K–12 curriculum, which state officials called a proactive approach to address the growing challenge of misinformation. The legislation, known as Bill No. 873, received approval from Gov. Gavin Newsom in October and is set to take effect in January 2024.

The bill, which Assemblymember Marc Berman, a Democrat representing San Mateo County in Northern California, spearheaded, emphasizes the urgent need for students to distinguish between fact and fiction, particularly in the digital age where misinformation has become more pervasive.

Bill No. 873 will integrate media literacy content into the existing mathematics, science, and history-social science curriculum frameworks. According to Berman, the objective is to empower students to navigate the complex online information landscape, fostering a generation equipped to evaluate and counteract misinformation critically.

In a statement posted on his official website, Berman emphasized the significance of incorporating media literacy into the educational framework. “Teaching media literacy is a key strategy to support our children, their families, and our society that are inundated with misinformation and disinformation on social media networks and digital platforms,” Berman stated.

The escalating levels of distrust in the media and the tangible consequences of online misinformation underscore the urgency of such education, the assemblyman stated. He pointed to the real-world impacts that have transpired due to the unchecked spread of misinformation, citing examples ranging from climate denial to vaccine conspiracy theories and even the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.

According to the National Association for Media Literacy, media literacy builds upon traditional literacy and offers new forms of reading and writing. Media literacy empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators, and active citizens. “Our children live in a world of powerful 24/7 media. In addition to children’s exposure to traditional forms of media and advertisements like television, print (magazines, books), and billboards, new media has exploded in recent years. Over the last decade, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of time children and youth are engaging with media, particularly digital media,” officials at Media Literacy Now wrote on their website.

“Children ages 2 to 8 spend an average of two hours per day, children between 8 and 12 spend four to six hours, and adolescents over 12 years old spend an average of seven to nine hours per day, according to recent research.” Officials at the advocacy group, Media Literacy Now, noted that media is everywhere, and technology is a part of life. However, they stressed that, with children spending such large amounts of time online and in front of screens, they are exposed to messages and information that can hurt their health and well-being and prevent them from becoming empowered and engaged citizens. “The negative impact that media can have on our children is profound,” officials stated.