Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) introduced two pieces of bicameral legislation to strengthen media literacy education to equip Americans with 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 help veterans strengthen cybersecurity best practices to identify disinformation and online scams.
“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.
“Increasing media and digital literacy education can help combat disinformation and misinformation campaigns that seek to manipulate perceptions and sow division,” said Klobuchar. “These will provide students and veterans with the skills they need to make informed decisions about online content and protect themselves from exploitation.”
“This legislation will increase awareness of cybersecurity best practices for thousands of veterans and their family members in Colorado. Veterans and their families are the primary targets of online fraud and succumb to them at twice the rate of the national average. We look forward to learning how to apply cybersecurity best practices in our daily lives and support Colorado’s veteran communities,” said Gerri Rimpley, Veterans of Foreign Wars Colorado State Commander.
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 co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
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 strengthen veterans’ cybersecurity best practices to identify disinformation and help them avoid online scams, 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.