Why News and Social Media Literacy Matter

In May 2019, Giarrusso worked with enthusiastic senior citizens at the Montclair Public Library.

American teens are online constantly and inundated with news and social media posts that they can’t sort as fact or fiction.

  • 95% of teens (13 to 17) have smartphones.
  • 45% of teens say they are online almost constantly.

Pew Research Center 2018 report

It also is increasingly hard to be a well-informed citizen.

  • By 58% to 38%, Americans say it is harder rather than easier to be informed today due to the plethora of information and news sources available.
  • 41% of Americans were confident in their ability to navigate the news environment to remain knowledgeable on current events and determine what is factually true.
  • Only 27% of Americans say they, personally, are “very confident” that they can tell when a news source is reporting factual news versus commentary or opinion.

Knight Foundation American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy 2018

Study after study tells us that in the age of “fake news,” it is critical for students and adults to be able to analyze and discern the purpose and truthfulness of what they see and hear on the news and on social media.

As a former journalism professor and mother of three, Theresa Walsh Giarrusso was constantly asking her students and her own kids, “Who says?” “Who’s your source?”

Giarrusso founded Who Says Media to help people examine where they are getting their information and learn online tools to fact check like a professional. These are different lessons, tools and techniques than what school librarians are teaching students. 

MrVargasRecVerticalGiarrusso created discussion- and activity-based news and social media literacy workshops called “A Journalist’s Toolbox to Fight Fake News” to help students and teachers learn:

  • To define misinformation and disinformation, the forms it can take, the motivation for it, the history of it and why it is so prevalent now in our society.
  • To identify types of media and develop a vocabulary to discuss media terms.
  • To understand the development of Deepfake and Cheapfake video, to think critically about AI apps such as Zao and TikTok and to examine privacy issues.
  • The hallmarks of legitimate news.
  • How to identify and evaluate reliable sources online.
  • How to fact check stories and sources.
  • How to identify and evaluate media bias.
  • How to trace photos and information back to the original sources.
  • Examine how social media affected the 2016 election and what social media companies and the government are planning for the 2020 election.

In the fall of 2018, Giarrusso taught the program to 56 high school language arts and social studies teachers at Montclair High School in New Jersey. In January 2019, she taught her program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. In the spring, Giarrusso was brought back by the Montclair School District to work with the middle school teachers and librarians. In fall 2019, Giarrusso worked with the South Plainfield School District’s parents and North Arlington District’s teachers and students. Giarrusso also was hired by the Montclair Library System to lecture about news and social media literacy for adults.

The workshops are non-partisan, and she can tailor the program to all grade and skill levels.

Who Says Media also offers writing workshops for kids: Creative writing, intro to journalism and WordPress skills.