Over the past several years, misinformation and propaganda have taken over social media, creating confusion and division. That’s why Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles is introducing a measure aimed at promoting information literacy in public schools. KUNR’s Paul Boger spoke with Tolles to learn more about her bill.
Paul Boger: Assemblywoman, you’re set to introduce a measure that would look to create an information literacy requirement in public schools. I was wondering, could you tell me a little bit about that measure and what that particular legislation would look to accomplish?
Jill Tolles: We have civics education throughout social studies, but particularly in high school, we talk about disciplinary skills. Those disciplinary skills are really critical thinking skills. They're the skills [to] learn how to investigate, not just claims, but the evidence behind them [and] how to ask the right questions to understand what kind of action needs to be taken as a result of the information you receive.
So that got me thinking, just as I've watched the events over the last year, we all have a challenge of so much information in today's day and age. It is getting harder and harder sometimes to distinguish what is factual information, what is opinion, what is inference and whether or not there's bias in the information that we're receiving. So I think if we're going to prepare our students to enter into the world to be good, engaged citizens, part of that is really making sure that they have the skills to be able to discern whether or not this information is valid and whether or not they should use that information to base their decisions on.
Boger: Where did the idea for this legislation come from?
Tolles: It was over the course of the summer when we had the various protests that resulted in riots in downtown Reno, and that certainly felt like it came very close to home. I'll give a very specific example. I saw an alert out there that said it was from Antifa and that they were leaving downtown and coming into people's neighborhoods and suburbs. So I reached out to one of my contacts at the FBI and said, “Hey, have you seen this?” He came back to me a few days later and said, “Remember that alert that you saw that was supposedly from Antifa? That was actually from a white nationalist group that had funding from out of the country.” So I really started to look into this whole use of disinformation and how it is targeted strategically to drive us further into our own camps, if you will, and to cause us further to hate and distrust each other and react in ways that are really damaging to our democracy.
Boger: There was also a large amount of misinformation in last year's election as well that ended in the deadly violence that was seen on January 6 at the U.S. Capitol. Did those events have any role in the creation of this bill?
Tolles: You're right, there was a lot of misinformation that was shared around the elections, and for lawmakers or everyday citizens to be able to distinguish the myths from the realities, or even know how to ask the right questions in order to understand how the process works, [like] who's in charge of certifying elections? What is the process by which we go about that? Just being more educated so that we can do a better job asking the right questions when they come up, and if there are problems, then let's fix them. But if there's information that's shared just for the purpose of creating more doubt and more mistrust, or influencing us one way or another for a biased gain, then we need to understand that and take a look at it.
Boger: In that same vein, there is a lot of mistrust between the two political parties at this point. Do you think that legislation like this will help bridge that divide at all?
Tolles: It's easier said than done. Once you break down trust, it takes a really long time to rebuild that, especially when people believe that the information from certain sources is automatically not to be trusted. How do you rebuild those skills to re-earn their trust? I think that's why you see a lot of bills, particularly you mentioned the election process. I think that's why you see so many bills to just be able to open up the sunlight on what the processes are. I think through transparency and through some changes in the process, that can help to rebuild that confidence and help everyday citizens to be able to see for themselves how things work.