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Missouri Officials Fight Online Misinformation

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said he's concerned about the spread of misinformation online.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said he's concerned about the spread of misinformation online.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and at least one state lawmaker are trying to educate the public about false media reports.

“Some of the fake stuff online looks more real than the real stuff,” Ashcroft said at a town hall meeting in south St. Louis County earlier this month. “Our form of government is dependent on educated voters.”

Ashcroft said he intends to distribute information about how to distinguish reliable news reports from misinformation at high school voter drives that his office conducts. 

He also addressed the issue of internet misinformation during a recent telephone town hall with AARP. Ashcroft, who oversees elections for the state, said he is especially concerned about senior citizens because recent studies show they are more likely to share political misinformation on social media than others.

For Ashcroft, a Republican, the issue of online media literacy is not partisan, he said. It’s not about whether people agree with a certain political perspective, but more about whether the information they are receiving is accurate and allows them to be informed.

Concerns about the spread of misinformation hit a fever pitch in 2016, when it was discovered that the Russian government was trying to influence the election through social media platforms.


The proliferation of false news reports has especially put Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg under pressure. Congress has questioned Zuckerberg more than once since 2016 about how the platform regulates content, including political advertisements that contain false information. 

State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis County, wants Missouri to be more proactive when it comes to online media literacy. He plans to file legislation for the 2020 session that would require schools teach media literacy.

“When you think about it today, kids are receiving more information a year than we probably received in the first 20 or 30 years of our lives,” he said earlier this month.

A media literacy curriculum would teach students to vet the source of content they see online. The students would be taught to ask questions like, “Who is providing this content?” and “What motivation do they have to put this content online?”

Murphy has been working with Webster University professor Julie Smith, who teaches digital literacy. Smith is one of Murphy’s constituents and approached him about drafting the legislation for a media literacy curriculum.

Smith said it’s important that people approach digital information as critically as possible. These days, media can be made to look as “legitimate as The New York Times” even if it’s fabricated, she said.

Follow Julie on Twitter: @jsodonoghue

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Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Julie O'Donoghue