Media literacy is ‘essential,’ BYU communications professor says

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Because of developments in artificial intelligence and the rapidly changing media landscape, BYU communications professor Pamela Brubaker says media literacy skills are becoming increasingly crucial for students and internet users to obtain.

Media literacy in the AI era

Media literacy is the ability to critically analyze and evaluate media being consumed. In the era of AI, media literacy means being able to navigate through a misleading and complex landscape of information.

“There is a responsibility to make sure the information we are sharing is accurate,” Brubaker said. She said online information may seem credible when it is actually fiction, particularly with AI-generated content.

A recent example of this comes from the Met Gala on May 6, 2024. Musician Katy Perry was not in attendance but photos of her walking the carpet were shared online.

An AI-generated image shows music artist Katy Perry at the 2024 Met Gala themed “Garden of Time.” The image even fooled Perry’s mother before later being labeled as “Generated by A.I.” (Instagram/@katyperry)

The singer claimed she was at home working and could not have attended the gala.

The images quickly gained traction on social media. Users were quick to name her the best look of the night, before seeing the image was later labeled “Generated by A.I.”

While the instance involving Katy Perry is not particularly threatening, spreading false information and images can quickly become dangerous, Brubaker said.

Students need to develop skills in verifying sources and distinguishing credible and non-credible information, she said.

“How many times have I heard about stories and information that is actually just fiction and not fact? And how many times are opinions formed based on fiction instead of fact?” Brubaker said.

Practicing media literacy on social media

Social media is a significant part of many students’ lives, whether they are on it or not. According to the Pew Research Center, 84% of adults aged 18 to 29 use some sort of social media.

With widespread social media use comes exposure to AI-generated content as well.

“I use AI like two to three times a day usually for things I post on Instagram or Tiktok,” BYU student Houston Fett said.

Practicing media literacy in the context of social media is essential, Brubaker said.

AI-generated image by BYU student Houston Fett. With widespread social media use comes exposure to AI-generated content. (Courtesy of Houston Fett)

For now, most of the images generated by AI are generally easy to identify because of weird inconsistencies and a somewhat smoothed-over look.

“I can usually tell when an image is AI because it looks glazed over and has a missing limb,” Fett said.

However, as seen with Katy Perry, spotting AI-generated images and information is not always that easy.

In addition to AI-generated images, deepfake videos often trick users by producing fake content. These videos can be harmless, such as a video which replaces the original “Back to the Future” actors with Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland. However, deekfake videos can also be used to scam, trick or manipulate, as was the case in a $25 million Arup scam.

In a YouTube video created by director Jordan Peele, it appears as though former President Barack Obama is giving a message on the dangers of deepfakes and AI. The end of the video reveals the Obama address itself is a deepfake.

“Moving forward, we need to be more vigilant with what we trust from the internet,” Peele said.

Barack Obama and Jordan Peele share a PSA about online safety and fake news vigilance. Deepfake videos can be used to scam, trick or manipulate the public. (YouTube/@BuzzFeedVideo)

Sharing false information can create a false sense of reality and mislead others, and information should be verified before being shared, Brubaker said.

“Basing information on sources that are not verified for accuracy is scary,” she said.

The future of AI and media literacy

Students should remember that much of the content they see is not what they are seeking out, but what is being solicited to them. “We didn’t solicit this content; they are pushing it out,” Brubaker said.

Brubaker said that looking ahead, the role of AI in media literacy will only keep growing. Just because someone knows how to use social media, does not mean the content is real. It is essential for students to check sources and identify if the information they are consuming can be trusted, she said.

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