There is an unfortunate tendency among think-tanks to squeeze their latest and greatest ideas into an already bursting National Curriculum. Fortunately, it is currently being reviewed, which means we're allowed. In our new report published today, we argue that digital fluency - what we call the ability to access and critically evaluate information taken from the Internet - needs to be a central element of modern education. 

The internet is now the greatest source of information for people living in the UK today, especially young people. Although there are more e-books, trustworthy journalism, niche expertise and accurate facts at our fingertips than ever before, there is an equal measure of mistakes, half-truths, propaganda, misinformation and general nonsense. The sheer amount of material available at the click of a mouse is asphyxiating as well as liberating. 

Knowing how to discriminate between them is extremely important. But as our research finds, too many children are not particularly good at it. They are often too gullible - believing the first thing they find, and not the discerning, skeptical users that they should be. This makes them more vulnerable to the rabbit holes of extremism, conspiracy theories, rip-off merchants that they are never more than three clicks away from.  

This is, of course, hardly new - classical philosophers developed a whole discipline about separating the information wheat from the chaff. But in an age where the traditional mediators of information - the trusted Fleet Street journalist, encyclopedia of whatever - are increasingly obsolete it is more necessary  than ever. And the internet makes it more difficult, as it requires some specific knowledge such as how video footage can be manipulated or how search engine algorithms work. 

Censorship of the internet is neither necessary nor desirable; the task instead is to ensure that young people can make careful, skeptical and savvy judgments about the internet content they encounter. They won't always get it right. I don't always get it right either. But putting critical thinking and skepticism at the heart of learning would make those tricky decisions a little easier.  

Martin Green

Having read your report I do concur with much of your analysis. As a secondary school teacher I too worry about the efficacy of information and the lack of rigour that students apply to sources, so called knowledge and opinion. However, I do think that consideration of the internet as the dominant force in contemporary media MUST take into account how the traditional sources of news information (print / radio/ tv) have changed radically. As a addicited 'news seeker' I have come to the considered view that the MSM does not provide anything like truthful, balanced or unbiased reporting. The only way forward is for young people to be guided to a much wider range of sources and, as you suggest, to be given the tools to make up their own minds as to the truth! I suggest being very careful about demonising those who ask questions of the elite/ official view. Who would have thought that Israel would attack and attempt to sink a US warship in 1967 (USS Liberty), that the US government would consider shooting down an airliner to encourage war with Cuba (Operation Northwoods) or that NATO would establish a network of 'stay behind' organisations to counter the 'red peril' in Europe in the Cold War (Gladio Network). These examples of official conspiracies are fact and young people need to be exposed to the possibilities of the actions of government bodies and agencies in misinformation, duplicity, deceit and criminality in the same way they are exposed to the extremist and radical agendas of specific minorities. Anything less will serve to obfuscate the truth forever, whatever we officially 'teach' our young people to do!

Tobias Chapple

Just a question about your methodology. As I understand it, your original research is a survey of 509 teachers and their views on their pupils' digital fluency, and how it might be taught in school. This, in combination with a literature review, is what supports your conclusion that young people are not good at being discriminate about the value of what they read online.

Just a survey of someone else's perspective and a literature review is a fairly slim basis, plus why not talk to this age group directly? Surely if the report recommends enabling young people to make the right decisions "about the internet content they encounter", then engaging with them would be not only preferable, but coherent with your report's own recommendations.

(I am aware of Demos having held at least two workshops with the creative agency Blod as part of its Digital Disruption project. Not only is Bold's project not yet complete, but two workshops, of roughly 40 participants total, you'll agree is not a sufficient research sample.)

Jamie

Hi Martin - thanks for your comment. Yes and I absolutely agree with the need not to demonise people that question official accounts. I'd hope more critical thinkers would be in a position to question both official and alternative accounts, and hold them to the same standard of evidence. That's not always the case.

Toby - valid points that we discuss in the methodology section. (Although our new survey, plus a review of every survey on the subject undertaken in the UK probably ought not be dismissed). As you'll see, when you read the paper which I'm sure you will with great vigour and excitement, the Digital Disruption workshops are not part of the research at all.

Malcolm Rasala

So you asked teachers what young people did or did not do or understand on the internet correct? This is scientific? This is evidential?

A parallel. Did your parents know what you did or did not understand about sex when you were a teenager? Did you tell them the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Did you openly discuss your sexual views, preferences etc with your parents. Do you even do so now you are a 30 something?

If your answer is towards the negative then we could, surely, imply
your parents were/are fairly unknowing of your discriminating sex life. Correct? So where lies the truth? With your parents or in your young head. Why would a youngster tell a teacher the truth about their life on the internet. It is nonsense.

Based on your lazy, weird methodology it is more likely your findings are full of "mistakes, half truths, propaganda, misinformation and general nonsense". This is the product of a Think Tank? Spare us!!!!
What a waste of space.

Children need to be taught discrimination? Just read this blog. It is full of propaganda, half-truths, misinformation, political bias. You might start at home with you fellow bloggers before you start seeking to mess up the minds of our young. They are quite able to separate the wheat from the chaff. They have been doing it for thousands of years without the need for such arrogance from above.

Mike

Just seen one of your research reports on bbc website about how propoganda and conspiracy theories entering classrooms. If you think its a problem why don't you see it being discussed in mainstream media. I'm talking about discussing the issues that lead these young people believe in those conspiracy theories. The truth is you wont find the media getting anywhere near 9/11 conspiracy theories, by that I mean real proper debate aired on tv. You never see that because 9/11 was probably a False flag attack, ie. Inside Job! And you know that is the truth its just that its not worth loosing your job/career by saying it is.

Voltaire

I wonder if our Mr Bartlett is for or against the teaching of Christianity and other religious 'certainties' of a God/Gods' to young impressionable minds? Where would lie his teaching of discrimination here?

Please Miss there is no evidence for a God right other than these Bronze Age stories. Yes Tommy but you must believe because well because I am older than you and I am a believer...................

Mark Macho

A point about bias. Most so called news reporting is hearsay
and all translated reports are at second hand like a game of
Chinese whispers. Not to mention several broadcasters
using the same Reuter's feed.

A counsel to travel and learn languages would not go amiss.
And getting information about students from teachers
or close questioning the authorities is like interviewing a Czar
about the mind of the Russian people.

No wonder our newscasters find 9/11 or a stock crash so astounding.

It is impossible to discriminate fact from fiction without getting
down to primary sources and this necessitates being able to understand them.It is not enough to exhort discrimination between
fact and bias. Students must be taught the necessary tools.
Without other languages you will always see through a single lens.

The study of history has rarely, despite the old saw, saved us from
making the same mistakes over and over. But it can save us from
untruth. How many British newscasters bleating about the 'first
destructive attack on American soil' knew their own army had
once burned the White House?

Doogle

"there is an equal measure of mistakes, half-truths, propaganda, misinformation and general nonsense" - sorry mate, I thought for a minute there that you were talking about the mainstream media.
It was a common ploy of the CIA to plant false stories in the main media outlets during the cold war, and it has been suggested that it continues to this day.
As for children being gullible, well what is more disturbing is the amount of adults that are gullible, even more disturbing is the fact that said adults are allowed to vote.

PUDI K

Jamie, is there any chance you might finally make true on the promise you made here?

http://www.demos.co.uk/blog/engaging-

"Sorry all, yes I am still here and still promise to respond. It is just taking me a while to find the time, but bear with me."

You still with us, Jamie?

Ben Combe

The real issue here appears to centre on controlling people’s thoughts in an age when mainstream media is losing its grip on the people it speaks to. The internet is a mixed bag of truth, lies and distortions but so is all media. The beauty of the internet is that it allows access to all information unlike in newspapers and on TV where the output is controlled. I would argue the real propaganda is in the hands of the mainstream media editors and not with those on the internet.

At the age of 42, I can say I have little faith in the news presented by the BBC, ITV, Sky or newspapers and view them as worthless, particularly because I can find the original sources for the news on the internet along with all the valid stories and information the mainstream channels don’t release. I agree we should be teaching children (and adults) to question all information and how to verify the sources as much as possible, but I also believe we shouldn’t be teaching people to believe in one type of media over another as your statement above appears to imply. Not all promoters of conspiracy theories on the internet are nutters as mainstream media would have us believe. Just visit AE911Truth.org to see what I mean.

Debbie Abilock

There is some research (see Flanagan and Metzger study "Kids and Credibility" which shows that a healthy sense of skepticism emerges as US children are online longer and engage more. Does your study tease out differences in evaluation skill as a function of access and engagement?

Mike

This happens everyday in Saudia Arabia, Bahrain, Qutar, UAE, China, Russia etc.. but you wont see Media reporting stories from those countries because the british Media are banned & not allowed to report what the human right abuses that happen everyday. That is because they are either too strong and powerful to mess with or upset them or they are America & Britains friends and allies so no need to report on them, only our enemies Iran. That is double standards, they think this kind of propoganda will bring Iran down? The truth is they underestemite Iran because they are way to clever. And while our children are made busy with rubish like xFactor their children are being taugh about these things and how the real world works.

Readalot

Absolutely disgusted - where is the mention of school librarians?
I can't believe what I have read - aren't you aware of all we do, all the information skills we teach? Why have we not been asked for our input? But I do notice the word 'libraries' has cropped up - under recommendations! Goodness me - what are you recommending? Probably what we already do, yet you've not had the intelligence to consult us about the report. Are you not aware of just how many librarians there are out in our schools - what about the qualifications we hold, most with degrees and even masters, most holding a teaching role in school. I am shocked - this is an insult to all school library staff - all I can think is that you just aren't clued up on what is happening in schools right now, yet the report makes out that you are - so, so wrong! You have produced information for parents and educators without consulting ALL school staff; library staff who also work with children every single day, who follow and work with the school curriculum, who know what's out there, who keep up with ever changing technologies, who guide and support students in their learning and of course, who want the best - these students are our future! I feel that you have produced a very incomplete report and I really think that you need to put this right.

RICHARD NEWNHAM

The comments so far leave me totally bewildered.

Why the anger and recriminations? It's a pioneer report; nobody died. Don't 509 teachers rate as trustworthy source material? Where else do you begin? Of course more specific questions will be gone into by the follow-up which one trusts this study will generate, I don't see it denying or obstructing that in any way.

Laura Taylor

I agree with Readalot's comments. As a school librarian we are involved in teaching our students every day how to discriminate and verify the information they read on the web. In this last week I have run 8 Year 12 inductions introducing 6th form students to the wide range of periodical and peer reviewed databases ( Infotrac, Philip Allan, Guardian Archive, Essential Articles, JCS Online , et al ) that we subscribe to for their use. Whilst I agree that much of this may go in one ear and out the other it surely was an error not to have consulted with the information specialists in schools about how this is being addressed. And even more of a disappointment that no recommendation was made that even referred to our existence!

Elizabeth Bentley

I too am very disappointed that the information experts, school librarians, do not rate even a mention, let alone consultation. Many of us are in the forefront of digital literacy understanding and well-placed to develop such skills in students, and do so wherever the schools employ us. Unfortunately, posts in schools are being reduced rather than increased, and reports which ignore our presence do nothing to reverse this.

Barbara Band

You state that too many children are not discerning skeptical users of the internet and are not good at discriminating between information sources. Yet many adults are the same ... surprisingly, even those who teach the children you mention! And if adults don't have information literacy skills then how do you expect children to have them? I also think that you too are, perhaps, slightly guilty of being an undiscerning and undiscriminating user of information as you have just taken the views of a few teachers and not investigated further ... Laura is right ... school librarians (where they still exist in schools) teach information skills and it's a pity that you haven't included them in your report.

Yes, I'm a school librarian so yes, I'm biased. But I deal with students looking for and evaluating information every day. Some of them are very good at it. Some actually acknowledge that the internet may not be the best resource that meets their needs and prefer to use a book. Despite their teachers I have to say ... many of whom are happy to accept bibliographies from Sixth formers that contain just websites; many of whom accept homework that is clearly cut and pasted from the internet; many of whom just use the internet themselves and never read a journal or a book on their subject.

Jamie

Thanks everyone for their comments. I will aim to respond as soon as possible, but needless to say the idea that this paper is about mind control, or that it denies the possibility that mainstream media sometimes has bias is absurd. I entirely accept the criticism about librarians not featuring, and they should have. I'm planning to write something about the role librarians could have here - I'll tweet it through @jamiejbartlett as soon as I can. Hopefully tomorrow.

Carl

Hi everyone,

Some really interesting comments.

To echo Jamie first, lesson learned: librarians and other information specialists should have been consulted. Our mistake and our oversight.

So to move forward, then, I'd like to invite the librarians to have their say now:

1. What are the things you're currently doing to help young people develop the skills to critically and skeptically engage with info online? Is this set up into overarching programmes of study, or are you doing this on an ad hoc basis?

2. Are the things you're currently doing sufficient, in your view?

3. If not, what are the things you need to better promote digital fluency in schools?

looking forward to your POV on this

Carl

Feng Than

Who says teachers are any less prone to "mistakes, half truths, propaganda, misinformation and general nonsense". The evidence?

Sarah Pavey

As a school librarian actively engaged with teaching digital fluency across all secondary school year groups I welcome this belated attempt to set the record straight after our glaring omission from your report.

I too would question the methodology but mainly because I do not understand that if the teachers felt unconfident in their own use of the internet, how could they make valid judgements about the competency of their students ? If they did feel confident then how much of a Dunning Kruger effect is there operating here ?

The other issue I would raise is the lack of reference to mobile technology and how this is counterbalancing the information "soup" on the internet by providing easy access to eBooks and packaged information aimed at providing basic facts to school children such as the Britannica Information Apps on various curriculum subjects.

Elizabeth Bentley

Do you want detailed comments on the blog, or to Demos?

Carl

Elizabeth, whichever you choose. Feel free to email me at carl.miller@demos.co.uk if you'd rather make comments that way.

Neil

According to the BBC Iran was behind the shooting of PC Fletcher. Is this the sort of information you want the children to make savvy judgements on?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l1J11WNQAs

Neil

According to our Government Libya was behind the Lockerbie bombing. I suggest that the Government is pushing a conspiracy theory all of its own.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7160854996287567609

Neil

You recently appeared on a stage after Dr Karen Douglas when she talked about “A Social Psychological Perspective On Conspiracy Theories”.

I met Dr Karen Douglas after a similar event in Manchester and asked her several questions about the contents of this film. She wasn't able to answer a single question.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3979568779414136481

Something Dr Douglas and yourself never do is actually engage in a debate about the evidence. I challenge Demos to write a paper on that film.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3979568779414136481

alex

Seeing as there is no way to contact you guys directly, i've posted this here:

On your website it says: "Demos is a think-tank focused on power and politics. Our unique approach challenges the traditional, 'ivory tower' model of policymaking by giving a voice to people and communities, and involving them closely in our research"

Yet, you are advocating censoring the internet to stop children and other people from questioning what they are told and the world around them, and then discussing said ideas. How is it that you are giving the people a voice when you are literally forcing the establishment's / government's voice into the people's mouths under penalty of legal action?

Surely the government is supposed to protect the people's right to think critically and question the world, not arrest this ability for it's own protection from the people

Hypocrisy is rife

PUDI K

Jamie, is there any chance you might finally make true on the promise you made here?

http://www.demos.co.uk/blog/engaging-

"Sorry all, yes I am still here and still promise to respond. It is just taking me a while to find the time, but bear with me."

David Vinter

Strange how skilled readers get hooked on ' magic' stuff like Harry Potter, [ I have never read any]. And so many cannot tell how their car works, or that the UK consumes around 65 tonnes of potatoes every week!

vito tums

Talking with Alex Jones you declined to acknowledge that the odds of two passports being found after the 911 crash is damn improbable . In fact statistically near impossible. Convenient, but not critical thinking.

Doogle

OK James,

If you had meant to show a balanced view regarding mainstream media being biased and absurd then you should have put that in your introduction/preview of the forthcoming paper.

Also, a bit of a paranoid response in claiming that the consensus among the comments was mind control, but now you come to mention it, are you saying there is no evidence for it? MK-ULTRA ring any bells? Just one official government project among who knows how many. The fact that the media can affect peoples thoughts and attitudes is obvious , hence a multi-billion (insert soon to be defunct currency here) advertising industry!

The quality of information on the internet can be hard to discern at times, yet there is more chance of information, less palatable to otherwise untouchable institutions, reaching enough people to hopefully make a difference. Mainstream media has it's vested interests and puppet-masters and mostly junk, no-brain nonsense to boot, along with constant distractions in the form of celebrity crap and ball games. For instance, the Demos British Treasure stupidity - "oooh, what do you think of Simon Cowell". that's real quality; but hey, the mainstream has got to be right, like telling the masses that despite the terrible destruction, obliteration of concrete and steel and no way of finding a body to identify, that on sept 11th 2001, proof of one of the high-jackers involvement came in the form of his passport floating tranquilly down from an exploding plane and landing a few feet from the crumbled ruins of the world trade centre. That there should be your first little avenue of investigating the type of insulting logic we, the youth and the not so youthful, are being fed.

You and your group are part of the problem. Prove me wrong.

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