More access, more responsibility 

Imagine getting all your information from your cell phone, only accessing news shared within your social media circles, and being exposed to only your friends’ viewpoints. For all too many of us living in communities without local newspapers or radio stations, that’s today’s reality.  Lack of widespread digital literacy education exacerbates the vulnerability of an already marginalized community among the unconnected.

With funding provided by the National Science Foundation, US Ignite launched Project OVERCOME to deploy proof-of-concept projects in broadband adoption. Knowing the immense importance of coupling training with accessibility, the seven Project OVERCOME communities also offered digital literacy support. In one of the communities, Clinton County, MO, a small rural town about 50 miles outside Kansas City, the training effort went one step further thanks to Kathy Kiely, The Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies at Missouri University.

As a veteran reporter and editor, Kiely knows the danger of misinformation in the press and online. She believes that more education and empowerment can be the antidote to the spread of false information. This belief prompted her to get involved in Project OVERCOME when she learned about the new effort in Clinton County, MO. Kiely designed and led a media literacy workshop titled “Making the Most of Broadband” that equipped Clinton County residents with strategies to follow when browsing the Internet.

Through the workshop, Kiely empowered participants to think of themselves as their own gatekeepers and to look out for untrustworthy information. Workshop participants learned that challenging what they find online is an important responsibility and can combat the spread of misinformation.

"It was a lot of good information on how to be ethical users of the Internet and digital media allies for each other by fact-checking before sharing emotional news that might not be real." Workshop Participant

Some of the top tips that she shared with the participants included:

  • Use the thing between your ears… your brain! Some articles and facts may seem too good (or too awful) to be true since they appeal to your emotions, so you should vet these for accuracy. Listen to your inner alarm bells if something seems off and dig deeper.
  • Think like a reporter. A reporter responsible for relaying information to an audience can help consumers determine if a news source is trustworthy. Do they have a webpage that gives you names and ways to contact the people behind the site? Do they accept corrections? If a place doesn’t have an “about us” or contact page or doesn’t accept corrections, then you should be suspicious.
  • If you can’t verify, don’t share. Inevitably people run into questionable news items. If the content is not corroborated elsewhere or you are unsure if it is true, just don’t share it. This prevents false information from spreading in your circles.

As communities of all sizes begin to expand broadband access to previously underserved or unserved populations successfully, it is imperative to enlighten users on how any technology, including the Internet, can be used for good or evil. While a world of new horizons opens up, new users must be empowered to use their increased access to information sources and platforms to break silos, not entrench them further. We can only accomplish this with educational programming. Media literacy workshops can help to prepare individuals effectively to evaluate information and separate fact from fiction.


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