Posted October 30, 2008

Is it voter disenfranchisement or voter fraud?

Temple professor helps high school students understand election news

In the past few weeks, ACORN, a community organizing group, has been accused of turning in phony registrations. And voting officials in some states have rejected stacks of voter registration forms — but are they checking for voter fraud or just trying to discourage people from voting, known as voter disenfranchisement?

For many young people, the news on this topic, just days before the election, can be confusing. After all, which is a bigger problem: voter disenfranchisement or voter fraud? It all depends on your point of view.

How can we best help young people interpret the news in ways that help them understand and contribute to contemporary society? In other words, how do we help them build their news literacy? This question is especially important at a time when younger Americans are abandoning traditional news products in large numbers, but increasingly using new forms of media, such as social networking, to get information.

To tackle these issues, professor Renee Hobbs of Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater and Bill Densmore, a fellow at the Donald W. Reynolds Institute hosted a conference, “Rebooting the News: Reconsidering An Agenda for 21st Century Civic Education," in Philadelphia from Oct. 23-25.

At the conference, Hobbs released, “Voter Fraud: Spot the Point of View.” This lesson plan for high school students explores the controversy about voter fraud and voter disenfranchisement covered in the news media, investigating differences between Republican and Democratic perspectives on the scope and significance of these issues.

Hobbs explains that through the lesson students learn that when gathering information online, even using simple search terms, such as “voter fraud” and “voter ID,” can have a political bias. To spot the point of view of a political message, students need to look closely at language use. The lesson plan is available at Temple’s Media Education Lab web site.

“We are concerned about the effects of media messages on students and others,” said Hobbs. “Today, every citizen can be a potential creator of news in social media, blogs, email and the web. Therefore, it’s time for us to give students the critical-thinking skills necessary to analyze and judge the reliability of news, and differentiate the facts, opinions and assertions in the media.”