WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) introduced two pieces of bicameral legislation to strengthen media literacy education to teach Americans the skills to identify online misinformation and disinformation. The Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act would create a grant program at the Department of Commerce to teach students digital citizenship and media literacy skills to help them think critically about online content. The Veterans Online Information and Cybersecurity Empowerment (VOICE) Act would create a grant program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to teach veterans digital and media literacy skills as well as cybersecurity best practices to identify disinformation and online scams.
“Increasing media and digital literacy education can help combat disinformation and misinformation campaigns that seek to manipulate perceptions and sow division,” said Klobuchar. “These bills will provide students and veterans with the skills they need to make informed decisions about online content and protect themselves from exploitation.”
“We need to equip communities with the tools to identify and avoid online scams, cyberattacks, and disinformation in the digital age. Our bills will strengthen resources for students and veterans to protect themselves online,” said Bennet.
The Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act would provide $20 million in federal funding over the course of four years for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to administer a grant program to support digital citizenship and media literacy in grades K-12. These grants would be available to local and state educational agencies, nonprofit organizations, and public libraries to develop curricula and programs that foster digital citizenship and media literacy skills for students. The legislation is endorsed by the National Association for Media Literacy Education and Media Literacy Now.
Bipartisan reports from the Senate Intelligence Committee and Cyberspace Solarium Commission have both underscored the importance of building media literacy at a young age to combat the impact of foreign disinformation campaigns. The bipartisan and bicameral Cyberspace Solarium Commission specifically recommended creating a program “to improve digital citizenship and to incorporate effective digital literacy curricula in American classrooms at the K-12 level and beyond.”
The Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act is cosponsored by Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
“We know that disinformation has deepened divisions and weakened our democracy. Increasing digital and media literacy is central to addressing these problems and essential in any healthy, functioning democracy,” said Smith. “This legislation with help boost media literacy across the country and protect students and veterans from disinformation and online scams.”
“We rely on the internet to help us participate in our democracy and take part in the global economy, but cyberspace is also filled with misinformation and malicious foreign actors. As disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks become increasingly sophisticated, this pair of bills will help Americans protect themselves and safeguard our democracy,” said Whitehouse.
The Veterans Online Information and Cybersecurity Empowerment (VOICE) Act would provide $20 million in federal funding over three years for the Department of Veterans Affairs to administer a grant program to teach veterans media and digital literacy skills as well as cybersecurity best practices to identify disinformation and help them avoid online scams, exploitation, and hacking attempts. The legislation is endorsed by the Modern Military Association, Blue Star Families, and Secure Families Initiative.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, fraud cost veterans, servicemembers, and their families $267 million in 2021, a 162 percent increase from 2020. These scam victims suffered a median loss of $600, 20 percent higher than the median loss for the general public. A 2017 AARP study also reported veterans are twice as likely to unknowingly participate in scams and cyber scams compared to the general population. Further, a 2018 bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee and 2019 investigative report by the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) both highlighted that foreign actors had coordinated online targeting of members of the Armed Forces, veterans, and their families to undermine the United States’ democracy.
“Over the last decade we have seen a profound shift in the way information is received and shared. This change has altered every aspect of our lives from how we communicate with each other to how we work to our mental health. Despite this incredible change, the United States currently does not devote any significant government effort, nor funding for media literacy education research, training, or implementation. We are simply not giving Americans the skills they need to thrive in the digital world. The Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act is a necessity to ensure our education system meets the challenges we face. We must commit to education today. It has never been more urgent,” said Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education.
“An educated population is essential if the US is going to meet the challenges of advancing technology. Today, essential education includes media literacy. Every young person in the US deserves the opportunity to learn these skills, and the existence of the United States as a robust democracy and flourishing land of economic opportunity requires it. Policymakers at all levels must elevate media literacy education as a priority. This bill raises the conversation to the national level, while helping educators on the ground meet media literacy and digital citizenship needs in a way that best fits their local community,” said Erin McNeil, President and Founder of Media Literacy Now.
“As SFI testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee in March 2022, domestic violent extremism is a real and pressing problem within our military community. This bill represents an actionable solution to a huge part of the problem: empowering veterans with the tools and awareness they need to thrive as digital citizens. As military partners and loved ones, we greatly appreciate this investment in our service members’ safety and our democracy,” said the Secure Families Initiative.
As Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections, Klobuchar has led efforts to protect our elections against foreign influence and disinformation campaigns. Earlier this month, Klobuchar and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) led 15 of their colleagues in urging U.S. intelligence agencies to prepare to combat Russian disinformation campaigns targeting the upcoming 2022 midterm elections.
Last December, Klobuchar, Reed, and 11 of their colleagues pressed Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the company’s failure to address the increasing amount of election-related disinformation on his platform. Last November, Klobuchar and Senator Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) also called on Zuckerberg to provide an update on Meta’s efforts to combat Spanish language election misinformation.
Last November, Klobuchar and Senator John Thune’s (R-SD) bipartisan legislation to develop a public awareness campaign focused on cybersecurity best practices passed the Senate Commerce Committee.
In December 2020, Klobuchar and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) pressed Google to improve its ad policies and combat election-related disinformation.
Before the 2020 election, Klobuchar led four colleagues in urging the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to take action to prevent ongoing threats of foreign election interference. In June 2020, Klobuchar, Reed, and 13 of their colleagues called on the country’s top intelligence agencies to take action to combat disinformation campaigns aimed at disenfranchising voters.
In 2019, a provision based on legislation introduced by Klobuchar and Reed to create a Foreign Malign Influence Response Center at ODNI was enacted as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Reauthorization Act. The Center will enable officials from across the intelligence community to collaborate and ensure that agencies and departments work together to assess influence operations with a whole-of-government approach.