February 6th, 2021

Importance of Media Literacy -- Washington Post Article

Yesterday the Washington Post published an article on its website that has some relevant points for our forum. Here's the reference:

Villegas, P., & Knowles, H. (2021, February 5). After Capitol riot, desperate families turn to groups that ‘deprogram’ extremists. Washington Post.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/02/05/desperate-families-are-seeking-groups-that-deprogram-extremists/ And here are a few key points:

Quotation: "Brian Hughes breaks radicalization down into three stages: the people “circling the drain” and just considering extremist ideas; the “hard core” like those who stormed the U.S. Capitol; and the people between.
The best time to step in is the “circling the drain” stage, when there is an opportunity to focus on teaching basic media literacy,..."
Points: (1) we can't reach everybody, focus on those we can reach; (2) media literacy /information literacy (call it what you will) is a key element of addressing the problem (and shouldn't we information professionals play a role, either by teaching, or by teaching the teachers?).

Quotation: "A high school student from New Hampshire said he was 11 when he first stumbled upon the concept of white nationalism through an online anime imageboard."
Point: we need information literacy instruction starting early: at least by middle school. In a way, this reminds me of sex education. If we ignore the topic, kids won't have the skills to deal with the misinformation they get exposed to. And they will get exposed to it, sooner than we might think.

Quotation: "“My goal was not to challenge his thought process or ideology but to get to a point where he could do it on his own,” said Buckley, who worked with the teenager."
Point: This reinforces what several participants have said that we shouldn't be the censors, we should equip our community members with the skills and tools they need to decide for themselves.

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Comments (16)

Comments (16)

Thank you for sharing this article. I wish address one of the quotes you referenced from the article:

“My goal was not to challenge his thought process or ideology but to get to a point where he could do it on his own,”

How profound! All too often librarians are seen as challenging the ideologies of others, which is why librarian/patron interactions can be a precarious process. And to be honest, the emotions and beliefs of a librarian can often be present when confronting misinformation. Many of my posts in this forum have discussed the removal of emotions (not an easy task) and the display of a willingness to discover answers together. The ideologies we all carry, especially in this day and age, are nearly impossible to alter. But I truly believe that even the most stubborn mind is open to understanding a thought process.

Regina M: Please know that this response to your response is indeed not based upon emotion, but out of a desire to tackle the subtleties of misinformation.

Your statement of “College professor are the worst” is symbolic of how misinformation is shared, and perhaps an inadvertent way. This statement is a generalization of ALL college professors, and when shared in an online public forum can contribute to the spread of misinformation. Are some college professors not adhering to open discourse and the promotion of debate?? Absolutely, and their actions are a detriment to the fight against misinformation! But statements based on emotion can produce misleading paths. I empathize with what you, your niece and your nephew felt, but with empathy come understanding. As a professional, you should be able to recognize the process that led you to make this statement.

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Regina M: It's not clear from your comment what kind of "pushback" your relatiives received from their professor. I think more engagement would be desirable than just "broaden your sources". Possibly the professor could use some librarian help in teaching students how to think critically about the information they consume. I'll post more on this separately.
Also, I think it is essential that the conversation not be approached with "right vs. left" pre-judgments.
See also my other comment about the view that our responsibility is only to provide the information. I believe we have an essential role to play in helping community members think critically and assess what they are consuming.

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I just read the article and was struck by this quote:
Quotation: "With the federal government sounding some of its strongest alarms yet about the threat of domestic extremism, these groups say they offer a way forward. Often staffed in part of the formerly radicalized, they are on the front lives of the fight against right-wing extremism, a growing threat that is in the spotlight but which experts argue has long been neglected".

If we are to help students and the public think for themselves, must we not help them understand that there is extremism on both the right and left? The goal, as I see it, is to help our patrons make their own decisions after looking at both sides.

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I have been reading former believers who managed to get out of these belief systems can be perhaps the best way to deprogram other people with the same beliefs. Perhaps if we feel the need in our communities, we could try programming with former believers. Or at least have the resources available to be able to connect people with them.


I agree with Pat F. Extremism is both on the left and on the right. It is our responsibility as librarians to provide information so that everyone has the opportunity to make their own decisions as to where the truth lies.

College professors are the worst. My niece and nephew experienced this just recently where when they tried to question their professors left, liberal teachings, there was pushback from their professors. My niece who is graduating this May with a 4.0 in Criminal Justice and Psychology was asked by one of her Professors where she got most of her news from. When my niece replied "FOX News" her professor told her that she should "broaden her horizons".

Once we show people/students all of the information that is out there, then they have a right to form their own opinions.


I really like Jessie's point about including people who have "been there" as part of any deprogramming. More generally--there are definitely less and more effective ways to change someone's mind. Striking a superior tone, and making someone feel lesser or stupid or morally bankrupt is incredibly counterproductive. Instead, asking questions, helping people to interrogate their own opinions and eventually their own ideologies, and modeling emapthy and open-mindedness is far, far more effective.


Pat F: I don't think the point of this discussion is to debate to what extent there is extremism on both right and left. I shared the article because of the points it made about the role of media literacy / information literacy in radicalization. It happened to deal with right wing extremism. If others know of specific resources about the role of information literacy in a left-wing context, I would encourage them to share those resources.

Moreover, your last paragraph raises some concerns for me. (1) I don't think it's our job as information literacy educators to get into debates about right and left extremism. (2) Your comment that we should "help our patrons make their own decisions after looking at both sides." falls short of how I see our role. Your formulation sounds to me like it will lead to either extreme cynicism: "source A says this; source B says that, so I won't believe anything at all" or else confirmation bias: "I like what source A is saying so I will believe it because I want to." Neither of these is a good outcome and as information professionals we can do better. I hold that there is a methodology for evaluating information and we need to teach it. It starts by focusing on specific claims, not generalities. I'll post more on this separately.

p.s. Apologies if I have misunderstood your comments. Please correct me if so.


With all due respect to everyone in this thread, I would like to take a minute to talk about the both sides argument. False equivalence is a rhetorical fallacy that is often employed in both the news and politics. I am not trying to get into a discussion on right vs left extremist groups, tactics, or ideologies, I just want to highlight how commonly fallacies appear in connection to controversial topics.

If we can help our library users to understand and spot these kinds of fallacies, it can help to think critically about the arguments being made and look deeper at the issue at hand. I hope I have not overstepped with this discussion, I am still trying to work on tactics to bring attention to fallacious arguments to my own users and community in a way that doesn't sound judgemental.


Jessie S: I've been thinking about your comment that "False equivalence is a rhetorical fallacy". Not being a rhetoritician (rhetoricist?) I did a little research and decided that equivalency claims are an example of generalization (or sometimes "hasty generalization". As such, I think they can be met with an information literacy, fact checking response -- what are the specific facts to base a judgment that A is equivalent to B. If we can agree on the facts, then maybe we can make a judgment about the claim of equivalence. Or we may find ourselves debating another fallacy, which is "moral equivalence". But I don't think you can have a productive debate about moral equivalence without getting past generalizations and into specific facts.
P.S. I'm using the Purdue OWL site as my main source here: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/logic_in_argumentative_writing/fallacies.html


Hi Dave and Jessie:

Interesting idea about deprogramming. It's also interesting (and sadly true) that not everyone can't be reached with this information.

I'm always curious about how to reach as many as possible. If it's only about preaching to the open minded, does it solve the problem? If not, what strategies are there for reaching those who didn't learn this in grammar school?

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This is where I struggle, because I want to be able to help everyone, even though I know I can’t. One of the scariest things about misinformation on the internet/social media, especially misinformation that leads to radicalization, is that people can create their own realities, then create their own bubbles, all in the safety of their own homes. This creates a self-reinforcing environment. As Dave points out, even children can fall victim. You could be streaming a movie in one room, while your teenager is in another room streaming radicalizing content on YouTube and joining a Facebook group of a community of believers.

As others have pointed out, we need strong information literacy education, and I totally agree. But how do we reach the people who have created a false reality bubble and who may never enter a library because “everything is on Google?” How can we education people about the harmful effects of misinformation if they think, “this could never happen to me?”

I keep brainstorming and trying to think of ways we could break into those bubbles. How can we use social media algorithms to our advantage? Perhaps if we are aware of a particular message that is being spread around our local community, we can create a social media campaign that might get through, because we would be both local and talking about the issue.

Another way to break into people’s bubbles would be through targeted advertising. Social media was created for advertisers to send messages to certain targeted demographics. This is definitely an expensive option, but perhaps we could find a way to collaborate with social media companies to send targeted public service announcements to people who are actively involved in specific groups. Messaging could involve education on radicalization tactics, countering misinformation, how to find helpful resources and support through the library. The message might be more accepted if it comes from a library rather than a social media company.

Assuming this kind of collaboration was possible, does it cross an ethical line? Libraries are committed to privacy. Targeting users with specific interests in specific groups could be intrusive. Also, because there are so many platforms this would require a lot of time and resources.


I agree that info lit needs to be started as early as possible in school and revisited regular. People remember and believe things that are repeated and are better skilled when they have lots of opportunities to practice. I think educational curriculum is set by each state, would it be possible for a nationwide K-12 info lit curriculum? Or is that considered government overreach?

I think sex education is a great comparison also because it is controversial for some people. Information literacy involves being able to think critically about controversial topics and information.

You are probably right that we can't help everyone. I am still interested in exploring way that libraries might have to help with deprogramming.

As a side note, I wish there was a single term. Information literacy, media literacy, digital literacy, etc. They all are inter-related.

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Hi Jessie,
I tend to prefer "information literacy education" as I feel it encapsulates various aspects of media/news, scientific, historical, and digital literacy, all of which are important components of this societal issue. I agree that we must have universal standards for information literacy education that are woven into schools across the country. There are national standards already in place, but they act as a guide to states, which have their own standards in place. I am not certain about the exact details of how these work, but I remember using state standards in college when I studied education.


Yes, it does make sense to require schools to teach research skills and, to some extent, schools already are required to teach research skills under The Common Core Standards.

The Common Core Standards are the national educational standards that guide education in most of our country. ~42 states have adopted The Common Core Standards, and teachers in these states are now required by law to teach students these standards.

The Common Core Standards require that students be taught research skills. However, there are several reasons schools are falling short.

If research skills are not included on standardized tests, they aren't often taught. In the schools where I taught, classroom teachers often felt like it was a challenge to teach students the math and reading standards that would be assessed on standardized tests. Teaching research skills was less of a priority.

Also, school librarians were not recognized by classroom teachers as the go to person in the building to teach research skills. It took time to explain my role and build trust with teachers so that they would begin to collaborate with me to teach research skills. To address this, I would like the Common Core Standards to require that research skills be taught by trained school librarians.