Denis Smith, a former official of the Ohio Department of Education, wrote this post in 2017, when the major concern of many was how to teach students to recognize “fake news.”

The villain of the piece is the internet, where anyone can post anything without fact-checking or any kind of filter.

He wrote about a conference on media literacy where Frank W. Baker was the keynote speaker.

Baker was the keynote speaker at the conference, whose title, “Popping the Fake News Bubble: Engaging Students in 21st Century Media and Information Literacy,” reflects the concerns librarians have in teaching students to be critical readers and viewers, consumers of what they are exposed and respond to in the modern world.

While we are now constantly hearing the term fake news, Baker said, the larger problem is a lack of critical thinking on the part of those exposed to media, whether that might be print, advertising, videos, commercial art, and other images that surround us every day. One study, for example, found that, on the average, we are exposed to more than 5,000 visual images daily, many of which have to be examined carefully because of the decisions and choices that accompany media.

The fake news bubble that Baker asked his audience of library/media specialists to address in their work with students is found in the fact that more than half of Americans now receive the majority of their news and information from Facebook and other social media. Never mind that readers of those platforms may not realize that there are usually no filters that provide discernment, and perhaps no editors or gatekeepers at work to mold the accuracy and appearance of media content, concepts, and ideas.

An example of “fake news” content. This meeting never happened. It is a doctored photo.

Yes, the internet is free and unfettered, in stark contrast with more traditional media. But young and old alike need to understand and accept the lack of constraints and therefore develop the critical thinking skills necessary to carefully evaluate media. As a case in point, the “Pizzagate” gunman, who brought an automatic weapon to a Washington restaurant after reading on the internet that it was part of a sex-trafficking ring with ties to Hillary Clinton, was sentenced on June 22 to four years in prison.

With Pizzagate and the manufacture of other infamous fake news products, one thing is certain: The internet is not The New York Times…

It is not an overstatement to say that in the last year, our country has experienced a digital Pearl Harbor, and all of us, particularly our elected officials and community leaders, must acknowledge the crisis we face in expanding our definition of literacy and educating all citizens to develop and expand their critical thinking skills as digital citizens, to use Baker’s term.

In spite of the arduous task ahead in getting these three players to address our national literacy crisis, Baker is optimistic that there is one group already in place to do the work at hand.

“I am excited that today’s librarians are embracing media and visual literacy themselves,” he said. “I believe the more tools and skills they have in their toolboxes, the better they will be equipped to demonstrate and justify the vital importance of their jobs.”

The sad irony, as Smith points out, is that many schools do not have librarians, whose jobs were sacrificed to cut budgets.