Big Tech Censorship Media Nolan Higdon

Did Lawmakers Finally Figure Out That Critical News Literacy is Antidote to Disinformation?

Photograph Source: Jesper Sehested – CC BY 2.0

By Nolan Higdon / Project Censored

In July 2022, David Keppler, writing for the Associated Press, warned that as “trust wanes, conspiracy theories rise,” and people in the U.S. are increasingly “rejecting what they hear from scientists, journalists or public officials.” After years of complicating and exacerbating the threats posed by disinformation through failed policies of censorship, the federal government seems to be coming to the realization that education is the best hope for mitigating the influence of disinformation on a democracy. As Keppler’s article was being published, The Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act & The Veterans Online Information and Cybersecurity Empowerment Act were introduced by members of the U.S. Congress to provide federal aid to media literacy education in the U.S.

Keppler’s article typified the moral panic over fake news, or disinformation, which began during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and was magnified during Donald Trump’s presidency and the COVID-19 global pandemic. In response to these fears, the federal government and private industry have collaborated to determine what is truth for the public. Through public denouncementshearings, and the threat of regulation and or trust-busting, federal lawmakers have repeatedly pressured Big Tech to remove or censor content from their platforms that they deem false.

Meanwhile, companies such as Facebook and Newsguard, have capitalized on the moral panic, collaborating with people from the military-intelligence community to create problematic fact checking tools that purportedly determine fact from fiction for citizens. Big-tech has been found to not only remove false content from their platforms, but accurate content as well. For example, in October 2020, Facebook and Twitter famously removed a New York Post story from its platform about Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, even though the story was not false, it was unverified. The removal later proved to be unwarranted as it authenticated by other media outlets including The Daily Mail and The Washington Post.

For its part, the federal government created a Disinformation Governance Board (DGB) in 2022 that was headed by at first Nina Jankowicz who resigned in the face of public pressure, and then by former head of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. Despite reassurances from the corporate media that only conservatives were spreading false information about the board, pundits on both the left and the right panned it as reminiscent of The Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. The DGB, which the New York Times claimed would “monitor national security threats caused by the spread of dangerous disinformation,” was discontinued after objections across the political spectrum became difficult to ignore.

Strategies that seek to censor content or define truth by decree are anti-democratic and do nothing to prepare citizens to determine the veracity of messaging contents. They do, however, complicate and worsen the spread of false information while simultaneously empowering known fake news producers: governments, industry, political parties, and establishment media outlets.

This has long been known by education scholars who have argued that critical news literacy education was the best antidote to disinformation. In July 2022, two congressional bills aimed to do just that were proposed: The Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act & The Veterans Online Information and Cybersecurity Empowerment Act. Collectively, they would provide $40 million to federal agencies to fund education programs to improve media literacy for American students from kindergarten through high school and for military veterans.

For decades, media literacy practitioners, scholars, and policy makers have worked tirelessly to make citizens aware of the existence and importance of media literacy education. Their goal was to do what countless other nations have done over the last forty years: add media literacy education to the curriculum in the U.S. The post-2016 moral panic over fake news advanced those efforts making Americans aware of the necessity of media literacy education.

The Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act & The Veterans Online Information and Cybersecurity Empowerment Act are promising steps toward funding media literacy education in U.S. schools. However, advocates need to be cautious that the bills do not become yet another opportunity for government and private industry to control information under the auspices of fighting fake news and promoting truth. Educators must ensure that they are offering students a critical news literacy not a corporate news literacy. Corporate-driven media—such as Facebook, Google, and Nickelodeon—discourages critical thinking while enhancing brand awareness and socializing students to adopt corporate ideologies.

Conversely, critical news literacy, includes an analysis of power. It teaches students how to think like journalists, evaluate and analyze sources, separate fact from opinion, interrogate the production process, and investigate the politics of representation. According to scholars Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share, critical media literacy education focuses “on ideology critique and analyzing the politics of representation of crucial dimensions of gender, race, class, and sexuality; incorporating alternative media production; and expanding textual analysis to include issues of social context, control, and pleasure.” Critical news literacy education not only empowers students to determine the veracity of information, but to interrogate the power dynamics expressed in media content.

Education is the most promising solution to disinformation. It has much more promise than recent attempts to empower known fake news producers – government, corporations, political parties, and media outlets – to determine what is truth. Rather than empower entities or individuals to determine the veracity of information for its citizens, the U.S. would be wise to pass these bills so teachers and schools can empower the citizenry to determine fact from fiction for themselves. For their part, educators must resist corporate hegemony in the classroom. A critical news literacy education should be administered by well-trained educators whose goal is to teach students how to think, not what to think. These bills could be an important step in making these goals a reality.

Nolan Higdon
Nolan Higdon

Nolan Higdon is a national judge for Project Censored and a frequent contributor to their yearly book, State of the Free Press. He is a lecturer at Merrill College and the Education Department at University of California, Santa Cruz. Higdon’s areas of concentration include digital culture, news media history, and critical media literacy. Higdon is a founding member of the Critical Media Literacy Conference of the Americas. He sits on the boards of the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME) and Northwest Alliance for Alternative Media And Education. His most recent publications include The Anatomy of Fake News: A Critical News Literacy Education (UC Press, 2020) and The Podcaster’s Dilemma: Decolonizing Podcasters in the Era of Surveillance Capitalism (Wiley, 2021). In addition, he has been a contributor to Truthout and Counter-Punch; a source of expertise for numerous news outlets, including The New York Times, CNBC, and San Francisco Chronicle.


  1. Good luck with that!
    I wonder if one of the things that will be taught is a critique of the concept of “separate” races ….

  2. Oh, here we go with the “educationalist fallacy” again. If we just educate the kids to think like us, everything will be fine.

    I live in a country where there has been this “media literacy” and “critical thinking” taught in the schools for some time. Young people are as stupid as ever. You can be just as critical as you want, without context and criteria it does not matter.

    In fact, some may notice that in any discussion, the “critical thinker” is the most totally obnoxious participant and most in the way of getting to the truth of the thing. ‘Critical’ is an extension of the flaws in western culture; the hostility to the concept of objective truth. That is, the idea that there are multiple realities or that truth is ‘relative.’

    The solution for disinformation is to not allow it. That cannot happen until pathocracy is ended and we have a government of analytical, not critical, thinkers. That is, those who have a context and criterion for making objective truth determinations and decisions based on them. 

    In fact, the biggest disinformation is the idea that western nations are democracies.

  3. All the nonsense of alleged danger of disinformation, a propaganda term concocted during Cold War ideological competition, is to justify hard censorship justified by autocratic or fascist minds that’s all. Both Americans and Soviets used that term against one another.

    In contemporary circa 1950s meaning of the word, Soviet Pravda newspaper apparently disinformed Americans by telling them that in Soviet Union they have universal healthcare free of charge, that abortion is legal and free, that all levels of education are free, whole month plus of vacation expenses were paid by employers on the top of full salary, that the rent and utility costs did not exceed 1-2% of income, that there were no evictions at all, that all people have old age pensions or disability pensions, that nobody was in debt, that joblessness, homelessness and poverty did not exist.

    It was called by US disinformation not because it wasn’t true. It was true. But because it informed US population of hard facts that contradicted American propaganda of misery and poverty supposedly inherent to socialism and its economic system.

    In other words disinformation does not mean a fallacy or lies but simply means genuine information that is considered conflicting with general narratives of those with power to control information like fused government-corporate media partnerships we have today.

    Today government censorship is simply outsourced to media monopolies and hence all this disinformation witch hunt for those who break those monopolies of truth via fact based, careful and accurate journalism extinct in MSM.

    Any impediments to free speech and/or any restrictions to free speech access to public is blatant censorship directly causing disinformation among population meaning imposition or influencing one’s opinion by mere fact of suppressing opinions of others.

    The Lack of specific opinion in the debate results in forming different opinions among disinformed participants than if they were exposed to suppressed points of view.

    The censorship of truth or falsities the same, is nothing but exercise of autocratic power over authors and recipients of speech and completely precludes society from any semblance of democracy as it is free speech that is sole guarantee that population stays informed enough so they can make their own sovereign autonomous judgment of veracity of information they are exposed to. And hence take all the responsibility for acting or not acting upon such information.

    It is unalienable, non transferable individual right and responsibility to determine if information is trustworthy or not and how to act upon receiving such information.

    This is a foundation of moral autonomy of adult population and required condition for any democratic society.

    Anyone who promotes any kind of censorship of free speech under any excuse like public good denies democratic process and promotes autocratic rule.

    Censorship is around us and we must avoid such useless euphemisms for censorship like blocking, banning, canceling, or downgrading priority, downvoting, moderating or delisting from news or RSS/ message feed etc.,. The very Orwellian idea of fact-checking authority is anti democratic and appalling. But is we do accept it we are already conceding any equitable debate and acquiesce to brutal dictate.

    These is no and will never be any credible and infallible authority that checks facts by which censorship can be justified and enacted upon in modern world.

    No such censorship justifying authority exists among, politicians, lawyers, priests, scientists or even doctors or other divine elites inherently engaged in a web of conflicts of corporate-government interests and institutional biases. It is sole individual responsibility to choose what word or deed will ultimately impact one’s life.

    The only remedy for misinformation, disinformation, ignorance and all bad speech is more free speech not less. It means no censorship and more access to public opinions not less.

  4. The article is based on the premise that we can trust the government to “educate” us about is truth and what is “disinformation”. The discredited Disinformation Governance Board was charged with censoring opinions which did not support the government propaganda. We can safely assume that any entity charged with “educating us” how to form our opinions would lead us in the same direction. The article rightly says that the tech companies should not be allowed to censor us. The government should also not be allowed to censor us. Conveniently missing from the discussion is any mention of the fact that “our” government has been lying us into illegal wars of aggression for over a half century. This process has reached unprecedented dimensions with the US proxy war in Ukraine, with regard to which the government directly and through its MSM and tech company propaganda agents, have attempted, with great success, to quash any and all dissent from the false government narratives used to sell that illegal war to the public. There should be no censorship. We have libel and slander laws which are adequate to address any abuses of our freedom of speech and press. If this Country were a democracy, it might be possible for the government to play a helpful role in the battle for “truth”. However, we do not have a democracy. We have a legalized bribery system, the result of which is to merge big business with the government to the point that there is no meaningful separation between the two. Big business makes policy. We the people have no meaningful input. End all censorship. Perhaps this message can even be delivered to the phony “progressives” in Congress who are demanding that the tech companies do the dirty work of censorship for the government, a clear case of the use of agency to accomplish the same result as direct government censorship. Biden’s decision to continue the illegitimate prosecution of Julian Assange removed any doubt that the official government position is that we have no first amendment rights of freedom of press or freedom of speech. Unfortunately, only a small minority of the people seem to realize that that is the case.

  5. Hmmm – schools are really, seriously going to teach critical thinking? Do you know what happens when high school kids learn that? The teachers and principals have to deal with critical thinking, and they don’t like it a bit.

    Even more basic: I’ve been following current events as closely as I could for about 60 years now – since, yes, high school. Out of all that time, one lesson stands out: the authorities are lying to us, reliably, because powerful people usually have something to hide. That lesson goes back at least to the Vietnam War, further drilled in by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Has everyone actually forgotten that already?

    Credit where it’s due: Scheer and Scheerpost are in the business of counteracting official lies. So what is this article, that basically asks us to become much more gullible, doing on this website?

    “Conspiracy theory” goes back to the Kennedy assassination(s); it essentially means “a story at odds with the official version” (see my second paragraph). Of course, some are patently silly; some, like Russiagate and “Q”, are deeply malicious. But many are someone’s effort to overcome official lies and smokescreens. Rather than just name-calling, we have to address their content and what evidence we have. We also have to tolerate a lot of uncertainty, because life is like that and powerful people have a lot to hide. “Conspiracy theory” is really just a cheap shot, implausible on its face (because conspiracies are not rare), and a very bad sign when used in an article.

  6. all journalism regardless is inadequate—some lies is racist fascist etc, some is dishonest by virtue of commissions, some is infected w rhetorical fallacies, false equivalences, Sui generis errors. comprehension requires examination of ideologies pre-conceptions epistemological, ethical method. journalism cannot begin to distinguish dialogical—Plato/Bhaktin/Schlegel from phenomenalnological—Husserl, Scheler, ,Levinas Merleau-Ponty, Simmel, Freud, Binswanger, Laing from hermetical—Schleimachker, Dilthey, Gadamer Heidegger to mysticism—maimonides, Boehm, Gurdgieff, du Chardin to dialectics—Fichte, Hegel Sartre Belinsky plekanov , Hertzen, Pisarev , Benjamin, Marx to existentialism—Leskov Shestov, Kierkegaard, Battallie, Nietzsche, to the neocons–explains why ?Kantfoucault, leotard deleauze , the discarded rationalism of Descartes or the worst fascists –Hume, Locke, Berkeley Mill Bentham the shallow materialism of feuerbach, analytical/anglphone philosophy….none of these fit into the categories claimed—this explains why we need Schiller, Kant Zizek, Baduiou, Groys, Kandinsky, Dobrenko, Sennet, Machiavelli Croce etc

  7. Critical media theory has been used in the Estonian education system for a decade. They already had high emphasis on media studies in their curriculum. Estonia are out performing every single western developed country on their PISA scores, they are right up with there with the top Asian countries and over-taking places like South Korea and Japan.
    This is from a piece of research produced in Estonia when they were assessing their curriculum at that time-
    “Teachers have no cognitive model of media literacy, and therefore they tend to see media education as extra load; – Curricula are overloaded and assessment is oriented on factual knowledge, not on critical reading skills; – Teachers do not have skills of critical reading, nor the methodology to teach critical reading; – Media literacy is narrowly understood as producing news stories or as ability to use internet; ” (Kadri Agur 2011).
    The recommendation for practice was-
    “I suggest that one of the ways for the effective improvement is to overview the teacher’s pre-service programs from the point of view of media literacy, and actively increase the elements of critical media usage and integrating different subjects. ”
    All I would ask is read the research on the outcomes for the student’s results before making judgement. Educators in the US are doing the research and looking at what produces results. The whole idea behind this way of thinking is that you aren’t teaching a child what to think but supporting them to learn how to think with a combination of work based approaches. They are developing problem solving skills. It’s like John Dewey said- ” Give them something to do, not something to learn”. By doing their own enquiries into the material they will learn all about it. Will they need to study and work hard? Yes but they will be more engaged and they will be developing transferable skill sets that will benefit them wherever they go. They will learn to research, plan, organise and complete projects. They will learn to apply theory into practice. They will have the skills they need to hit University or College running, to start a business or make an impression in the workplace etc. And on top of that they will be more discerning consumers of media which is an ever more important skill in this world. Estonia are producing a generation of tech whiz kids now!

  8. I call BS!

    This article feeds a feedback loop. Systems failure. Systems collapse.

    “For their part, educators must resist corporate hegemony in the classroom.” Tech giants and publishing houses run education. Nothing to see here folks? Just more smoke and mirrors and blaming teachers for not resisting *more* and striking *more* and quitting *more*? Oh wait, that last one we’re winning.

    “Critical news literacy education should be administered by well-trained educators.” Train me some more on how to read scripts and perform according to ed codes written by tech giants and publishing houses? The lack of critical thinking in this article is mind numbing, but the author is well trained in the language.

    “Whose goal is to teach students how to think, not what to think.” I have a feeling this article is written by a guy who holds his position(s) due to publishing research papers where the research was paid for by… tech giants and publishing houses.

    This article feeds a feedback loop. Systems failure. Systems collapse.

    I call BS!

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