Visual and Digital Literacies through Fake News

Streamed Session

Brief Abstract

With more digital and visual communication, youth need competencies in discerning and producing visual information digitally, especially in cross-cultural communication. To contextualize these literacies, educators can use fake news in teaching these skills. Learn effective strategies and venues for such teaching and learning. 


Dr. Lesley Farmer, Professor at California State University Long Beach, coordinates the Librarianship program. She earned her M.S. in Library Science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and received her doctorate in Adult Education from Temple University. Dr. Farmer has worked as a teacher-librarian in K-12 school settings as well as in public, special and academic libraries. She chairs the IFLA's School Libraries Section. A frequent presenter and writer for the profession, she won American Library Association's 2011 Phi Beta Mu Award for library education and the 2015 Library Instruction Round Table Librarian Recognition Award. Dr. Farmer's research interests include digital citizenship, information literacy, collaboration, assessment and data analysis; she is also a Fulbright scholar. Her most recent books are Information and Digital Literacies: A Curricular Guide for Middle and High School Librarians (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).

Extended Abstract

As the world increasingly communicates visually and digitally, young people need to gain competence in these arenas. One of the ways to contextualize visual and digital literacy is via fake news. To deal with this issue, young people need to be visually literate in order to discern the veracity of visual news messages. Tracing the information cycle of fake news reveals steps where images can be faked in order to influence and impact consumers, particularly with digital tools. 

Furthermore, this global communication phenomenon also results in increased cross-cultural engagement. In one aspect, such sharing of information can lead to a global culture; that is, a relatively homogenous set of digital platforms such as Facebook and TikTok and artifacts that have global meaning such as Coca Cola and K-Pop. On the other hand, transmitted messages are socially constructed, reflecting distinct cultural meanings and connotations. When accessed by individuals from different cultures or with different values, those messages can be misinterpreted and even foment conflict, such as assertions about transgender or abortion. In short, both in terms of the quality of information and its possible misinterpretation – which can lead to dire consequences – the need for visual and digital literacies is vital. the earlier taht students can those skills, the better. 

Tracing the information cycle of fake news provides a framework for students to understand the processes behind fake news, including the power elements that underscore fake news and their consequences. Basically, the cycle consists of information (in this case, fake news) creation, processing, dissemination, access, and use. The fake news information cycle also provides a framework for students to identify what visual and digital literacy skills are needed to discern and counter such misleading information. Media literacy constructs may be referenced in this cycle, providing important questions to ask that students can reflect upon in examining fake news in particular, as well as news and, even more generally, mass media. 

Currently curriculum for visual and digital literacies exist, as does news literacy. However, such curricula are not offered consistently. Most schools do have technology plans that include digital literacy, but the curriculum might focus on technical skills and personal safety more than on analytical skills. Visual literacy is typically taught in art classes, which are unlikely to address deliberate visual manipulation. News literacy is most likely to be addressed when discussing current events, which may surface fake news, but seldom addresses it systematically. 

Technology-enhanced visual literacy curriculum is provided using a news literacy lens: defining fake news and its variations; need for news and media literacy; fake news information cycle; identifying and discerning fake news; credible sources and organizations; and dealing with fake news. Fake news can be the attention grabber and motivator for students to engage with that content and gain competencies in discerning and responding to it. Effective strategies for implementing that curriculum across academic disciplines are then presented, including several resources.