Share this...

This week we speak with Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). Larry and Michelle explore the importance of media literacy in education, parenting and our personal lives.

You can listen here or on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Listen to “The Human Side of Media Literacy: The Stakes Are High!” on Spreaker.


Larry: Hi, I’m Larry Magid, CEO of ConnectSafely, and I am thrilled to be with my friend and colleague, Michelle Chula Lipkin, who is the Executive Director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, or as we like to call it, NAMLE. Not NAMLEY, NAMLE. And I’ve known Michelle for a number of years.

She and I have been on a number of committees together, and she’s always my go to person when it comes to the important media literacy. At ConnectSafely, we like to think we know something about media literacy. After all, we did write a parent’s guide to media literacy and false information.

But the true expert globally on this topic is Michelle. So it’s a great pleasure to speak with you, Michelle.

Michelle: Thanks, Larry, for having me. That’s a lot of pressure there, but I’ll try to meet your expectations.

Larry: You always have. Well, let’s start by telling those who are not familiar with NAMLE what it is, what it does, and why we should all be interested in it.

Michelle: I love that question. So NAMLE, it is the largest membership organization for media literacy around the globe, and we’ve been in existence since 1997, long before media was social, and when AI was still something we were reading about in science fiction books.

Our work is all dedicated to advancing media literacy education in the U. S. and beyond. We do that in various ways for our community. We hold a national conference for teachers, professional development every summer. We host U. S. Media Literacy Week every year, which is a public facing initiative that really highlights that.

It’s the value of media literacy education. We also run a National Media Literacy Alliance, which is an alliance of 13 membership organizations for teachers. So pretty much all the major subject areas in schools have come together under the umbrella of media literacy. We share resources. We curate resources for our community.

We hold membership meetings and organizational partner meetings. So a lot of community building and networking and on top of that, we also tend to be the voice of our community out there in the world. So, we do a lot of work outside of the education space with like tech companies or election officials or policy makers really spreading the word and educating people what is media literacy, why is it important, and helping people understand just how broad it is and how important it is.

Larry: I think you told me that you started NAMLE in 1997. Is that correct?

Michelle: I did not start.

Larry: It was started in 1997. It was

Michelle: started in 1997 by a group of very prophetic scholars who saw the writing on the wall and knew that This work was going to get more and more and more important. And so I did not start at NAMLE until 2012.

And at that point it was really the advent of social media that had the board kind of say, okay, wait, this is, this is getting big. Now we need some staff. And so I came in in 2012. And as you know just like me the last 10 years have been, beyond anything I could have ever imagined. And certainly the landscape has changed.

Larry: Well, I was about to say, even since 2012, things have changed. I mean, since 1997, a lot has changed, including new media that essentially for all practical purposes, didn’t even exist in 1997. But even since 2012, I mean, the term fake news, which began as a way of describing actually fake news, and then got co-opted to be a way to insult the established news media. I mean, just, just so much going on right now. I don’t even know where to begin, but all I know is that media literacy is more important than ever. And my sense is that it’s more difficult, especially with the advent of generative AI, than ever to know how to evaluate what appears to be in front of you.

So I wonder if you have any thoughts about sort of the current landscape that we’re living in.

Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. Lots of thoughts. I do want to say that I appreciate, I’ve heard you speak about kind of the history of fake news, and I’ve always found that very interesting, and I love the way you frame it, and I, I just want to add, To that point that things really did change in 2016 when fake news became part of the cultural conversation in a way it hadn’t really been before, the level of attention we got in 2016 was unprecedented.

And so what’s interesting about it. The conversation about fake news and about mis and disinformation is it put a spotlight on all this work that had been being done and all of this, these efforts that have already kind of had a foundation. So it allowed us to really amplify our voices and get out there in the cultural conversation, like we’d never done before.

This might sound surprising, but I think you know me well enough to know I’m a pretty positive person. And so I hear what you’re saying, that it’s more difficult because our communication systems have gotten complex. There’s a quantity of information and a speed of information that is unlike we’ve ever seen before.

So clearly there are challenges with that. What I am very positive about is that we are in a space. In a situation where we are finally recognizing how important media literacy education is. And so we’ve had these issues. We have seen so much change over the last 20 years in our communication systems, and it has really taken some serious steps. There are issues and serious incidents and, really, just some really bad news around this space right to get people to pay attention, but people are finally paying attention. So that is a huge, huge shift because before 2016, nobody was calling me back. Nobody wanted to talk about media literacy. Now, I have started as a part-time executive director. I have five employees. Now we went from 250 members to almost 9,000. The world is shifting. And I believe that we’re starting to get it right in the sense that there is a common. Consensus that media literacy education is important and we have to do something about it.

So without that, we weren’t getting many. You know,

Larry: I remember when the biggest thing we worried about, we used to call it urban myths. And I remember there was this rumor that was spread on the internet that the government, I think it was the post office, was going to charge five cents for every email that you sent.

And this was going on and people were reposting it probably on MySpace or God knows where at the time. But I remember when that was the biggest. scandal, the fact that people were spreading this silly rumor, and then there was all the ones about Bill Gates sending you millions of dollars. And that was even before the term fake news came around.

Michelle: I think you’re right. There’s no doubt that there’s more information to sift through, and that can make things very tricky, but I think we’re also getting savvier, right?

We are also learning that we have to think, we have to pause, we have to question but until we have really effective media literacy education in our schools, people won’t have the level of skill they need to navigate this very complicated ecosystem of information. So in that sense, we have to be better at educating people because it is a tricky, tricky information ecosystem.

And we have to know what questions to ask. We have to know how to analyze and understand. I mean, I, I think about just this week, like, Like you can think about the news and politics and just really, really hard things that are going on in the world. But then you can even just look at the coverage of the recent Met Gala, the number of AI images of people like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry who weren’t there, , it wasn’t even like they had attended the event were going around my Facebook feed and I’m like, come on people.

Larry: And, and that’s, that’s relatively harmless, but if there’s an image, for example, of a politician engaging in a, in a horrific act that he or she didn’t in fact engage in, that could sway an election. That could be very serious.

Michelle: Yeah. Yeah, the stakes are very, very high. And so that is one of the reasons that we advocate for media literacy education, wherever we go every single day of our lives, because the stakes are too high, like the amount of evil actors or disinformation, kind of anti democratic forces that are out there in our landscape.

It’s a real threat. .

Larry: God, I have so many questions. I don’t know where to begin. We get into this issue of being skeptical, but not cynical because one of the problems with this is that if you don’t believe anything. Then there’s nothing we can trust. And, you know, the government, the news media, if we don’t see it with our eyes, we don’t believe it.

And even then we’re not sure we believe it.

Michelle: Yeah. It’s so interesting. My son is in a band and they posted something today on their Instagram feed. That was like their opening for someone and it’s kind of a big deal and they’re very excited about it, but a lot of their fans didn’t believe them. And it was so interesting because they were like, wait, but this, this is a poster, but like anyone could have made that poster.

And so it is interesting that people are questioning. So it’s like that line between skeptical and cynical is really where media literacy education can play a role because media, it’s not just simply like go out there and do your research or think critically, unless you learn how to do that.

Not everyone just naturally knows how to think critically and analyze and evaluate sources and learn how to create and what. Questions they should be asking that take practice, and it takes a lot of education. If you think about how long it takes us to learn to read proficiently, like, think about that.

We’re talking about the ability To consume and author across communication, tools and across media, and that is not something that you’re going to learn, , just from one class, right? It’s a skill set that needs to be taught throughout a student’s life and beyond because there are a lot of adults outside of formal education who really need to continue to be savvy and knowledgeable about technology changes and the way technology works.

We get information, one thing that I want to make really clear is that, media literacy is about understanding information, right?

It’s intention. It’s influence. It’s impact. We don’t want to just protect people from being duped, right? We want people to understand the systems in which they’re navigating because literacy is a much more nuanced understanding of the systems in which information is shared, and the messages and the influence on us that the messages are conveying, and really understanding that is so important.

But I also think that we do focus a lot on the news. When we talk about media literacy education, which of course is really important, but our media landscape is vast, and the majority Of information that we consume and media messages.

We consume are not news, right? Their opinion, their entertainment, their commentary, their propaganda. They’re all of these things for

Larry: Seems like Reddit. I mean, I learned a lot on Reddit, and I always take everything and nothing against Reddit. It could be facebook. It could be X, whatever. I recently bought a car, and I spent a lot of time researching about the car, and I got everything from the greatest car ever built to the biggest piece of crap you could put in on four wheels.

But I had to sort through that and ultimately make a decision what to buy. With all that as, as background, as information, but not relying on any one of those comments, because some of them were just way off the mark in both positive and negative ways.

Michelle: Yeah. I mean, you’re talking about reading the internet, right? Like understanding how to read the internet, assess the information, how do you analyze it? How do you know if it’s credible? How much weight should I give to it? If it’s a major, credible, reliable news source versus, a lesser one that’s Being or a blog that my aunt is writing and, , there’s value in that blog, but it’s not, it’s not the same weight of information and research.

So we have to learn how to process information and reflect on it before we take action one of the things we focus on is just the need for reflection and, pausing and being like, what do I really know about this topic in just the 10, 15 minutes I’ve been reading about it?

Can I really consider myself an expert to talk about it, or should I learn more? And. I think one of the dangers in the amount of information we receive is we do overestimate our knowledge, right? It’s great that we’re gaining this knowledge, but we also have to respect those that are doing the work in these spaces in a really significant way, because I think that we just, we take it information and all of a sudden we.

We kind of assume we know what we’re talking about, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we have some knowledge, but we have to be careful about, like, just placing ourselves in this expert role when we just had an interest in a topic.

Larry: So we live In very complex times, and there’s a lot of things going on in the world right now. We’re recording this in May of 2024. We’ve got the war in Ukraine.

We’ve got the war in Gaza and Israel. We see news reports. We see social media accounts. We hear from partisans that have strong opinions, and it’s manifesting itself in real ways on American campuses and American communities.

From a media literacy standpoint, how do we process all of this news that’s coming in with different levels of opinions and analysis? It’s so vital, yet, I think for many of us, very confusing.

Michelle: Yeah. I mean, I think it is confusing because these are really complex situations. One of the issues is that our communication systems are not set up for complex, nuanced situations, right?

Especially social media feeds. They’re very binary and it, and it forces us to be in kind of binary conversations. And there’s a lot of situations that are really complex. And when you sit down and talk about them, or whether it’s at dinner with friends, or, you’re going to a lecture, you can see those, like, complexities.

You might end up feeling the same way about it, but you can understand that they’re nuanced situations. And that’s going to take people understanding how these systems work and why we’re not able to really delve into complex topics within the framework of, weeding through our social media feed.

Larry: You know, it brings up the term disinhibition, which happens when you are communicating through a screen, and I always think of disinhibition, the analogy I use is road rage, and I, I had a personal experience once when I was pulling into a parking lot, and I accidentally cut somebody off. And he starts giving me the finger and screaming and yelling.

And I lowered the window. I say, I’m so sorry. That was clumsy of me. And he said, Oh, don’t worry about it. It happens. Yeah. In the beginning, we’re sitting in the 3000 pound glass steel enclosed vehicles, but when the windows were open, we were two human beings interacting.

Michelle: Yes. And I think that, people come to social media.

With their values, with their emotions, with their perspective, with their lived experience. So it comes down to like one of the biggest, like media literacy tenants, that different people are going to interpret messages differently. And what do I understand and, and know about myself by my interpretation?

And that. That requires reflection and understanding, right? That sometimes doesn’t happen when we’re just scrolling through and especially doom scrolling, ? So I think that we’re up against a fast and furious information landscape. We’re up against algorithms. We’re up against business models, and we’re up against our emotions and our beliefs like that’s, combustible, like it’s a perfect storm.

Like, it doesn’t surprise me that people get angry with each other and argue. And, it’s important for us as humans to recognize that divisiveness is being created, right? It’s being created by these systems that don’t allow us to have these human interactions.

We have to remember the human side of things. And I think we sometimes are doing better with that. And I think again, media literacy, skill building helps with that. But I think it’s tough.

I just think it’s tough. There’s a lot of stuff that people feel really passionate about.

Larry: So you, we’re going to wrap up soon. You, you had started out or somewhere in the conversation, you talked about being an optimist, which I admire in you. And I think that’s a necessary component for the kind of work that you and I do, because if you’re not an optimist and why, why even bother, right? So, Let’s talk a little bit about the students that you’re teaching at Brooklyn College. The high school kids I don’t know how old your kids are. But what about this generation? I mean, I know from the kids that I’ve met, you know, maybe that’s a selective few but so far I mean, I think they’re smarter than I was at their age.

They may be smarter than I am now definitely more passionate than I am now a lot of energy. I don’t know. I tend to be optimistic, but I hear a lot of pessimism coming from people my age and even younger.

Michelle: Well, I think one of the most pessimistic conversations that have, are having culturally right now is The way that the teen mental health crisis is being framed, it drives me a little batty because, talk about a nuanced situation that’s driving It’s

Larry: all social media’s fault.

Michelle: Yeah, like, it’s a nuanced situation you know, if we’re asking the wrong questions, we’re not going to come up with the right solutions. My kids are 19 and 21 and they’re both in music. And I look at what they’ve been able to do already at 19 and 21. And re and know for sure that they would not be anywhere.

Near where they are without technology, without social media, without the ability to reach people with their art. And has it been challenging in some ways? Sure. But the potential and the opportunity there is unbelievable. I find that this generation is active. Is honest, communicative, is smart and reflective in ways that I don’t think any generation has ever been before.

And so I think the conversations about youth today, I think, yes, we have to address whatever teen mental health crisis is going on, but we need to address it. By talking with them and working with them, as opposed to kind of telling them, what needs to be done and, and that they need to only, like, they need to listen to us, like, we need to be listening to them.

But my experience of this generation is, They want knowledge. They want to understand. They also have the same concerns about social media that we all do. Sometimes they feel like they’re on it too much and they don’t love it or they want to take a break from it. Like they’re reflective and, and just really I think one of the most is like they’re self reflective in a way.

I know I wasn’t until I was like, In my thirties, they’re just able to look at themselves in ways that I don’t think we give them credit for. And they’re so activated about the things that are going on in the world. Like, I think the kids are all right.

Larry: And in terms of media literacy, I mean, do they get it?

I mean, when you teach, the classes that you teach. Are when NAMLE sends teachers out or educates teachers to teach out in the country? I mean, how are we doing as a group of adults trying to inculcate young people to be smart consumers of media?

Michelle: I’m going to say that media literacy does work, we know that for a fact. And we recently have just kind of started to summarize that and put together a compilation of efficacy studies and, and essentially what, we know is that, Is that media literacy works and it works because it helps people discern information.

It helps people make more informed health decisions. It helps young people develop healthy mindsets. They make sense of the world through their media literacy skills and. Media literacy education brings learning to life, right? It makes it more relevant for students. So, and this is all evidence based, like we have the evidence that shows that media literacy works.

The issue is, we’re not getting it to all students, right? We’re not, we’re not at a point where media literacy education is a national priority. There’s amazing practice going on and amazing organizations and educators. But until we get it to be something that is an essential part of education, we’re going to be behind.

Larry: Is there political pushback at all on this issue? Or is it just a lack of resources?

Michelle: No, I think that there’s Lack of resources. There’s no investment in the demand for this. There’s like light political book backlash. Because people don’t always understand that, media literacy is not teaching students what to think.

It’s teaching students how to think. And if you see, Really strong media literacy practice in the classroom. The teacher is not guiding them to a point of view. They’re guiding them to be critical thinkers and effective communicators. But there’s so much demand out there and there’s just a lack of resources.

Just think about what teachers are going through today. They need the training, they need the support, they need the funding. And, we really need to deal with this as, Is kind of a crisis situation because the information is coming at us today. Right? And so we need to teach students how to navigate it today.

And we need to be obviously focused on mandatory education, but we also need to be thinking about informal education past compulsory. Right? Because. There’s just way too many adults that are not caught up and we need to have systems in place where continuing education is essential.

Larry: No, I agree with you.

We need to wrap up, but I mean, I, I’m so pleased at the work you’re doing and, and I think the way you ended it with adults is so true. I mean, I’m having to refresh my media literacy skills as I learned about generative AI and learn how to use it and how not to misuse it. And you know, I, I consider myself pretty media literate, but now there’s a whole new media.

Michelle: Yes, exactly. I had no experience

Larry: with just a year ago.

Michelle: Yeah. And part of that skill is about being flexible and being able to say, Oh, here’s something new I need to learn about. That’s a skill. Like that’s a mindset of like, I need to be curious and be open, be amazed by new, new technology, because then I will learn how to assess it.

And I will use my media literacy skills when I’m. Interacting with new media.

Larry: Yeah. And of course, I love ChatGPT because early on it said that I had an Emmy. I don’t have an Emmy, but it said I did. And of course, that was many, one of many examples where it didn’t get things right. But actually over time, it’s getting better and making fewer mistakes.

But again, I love to use it, but I always double check. I always cross reference anything it says before I actually act on it. Because, you know, like a lot of other media, it doesn’t always get it right.

Michelle: Right. Right. I think double checking and pausing and reflecting are all really, really important skills.

Larry: Well, Michelle Lipkin, the Executive Director of the National Association of Media Literacy Education, otherwise known as NAMLE.  Thanks so much for giving us all a little bit more media literacy.

Michelle: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate any chance I get to talk about media literacy.

Share this...