One UNM political science professor is continuing her teaching beyond a typical classroom in the Social Sciences Building. 

Associate Professor Jessica Feezell is sharing thoughtful research and discussion with the greater Albuquerque community thanks to Albuquerque Oasis.

Jessica Feezell

“The members of Albuquerque Oasis that I have had the privilege to engage with are smart, talented, engaged community members of very diverse backgrounds. I learn so much from them,“ Feezell said.

Albuquerque Oasis is a non-profit dedicated to educating learners of old ages with a broad array of tech, health and educational programming. Feezell added to that learning experience by a recent presentation on social media, misinformation and the generation gap.

She had given the presentation the year before, and both she and the audience were so enamored, she wanted to do it again. 

“It was so fun, and the audience was so receptive that I couldn't say no when they asked me to come back this year for another talk. Oasis offers a broad array of classes for adult learners, wellness courses, tech tutoring, and is just a real gem in our community,” Feezell said.

Feezell specializes in digital media literacy, and passed that on to a critical age range. After all, research on the 2016 general election showed that even after controlling for important demographic factors, the 65+ age group shared seven times as many articles from fake news domains compared to the youngest group.

“I think this is because they grew up in a different media era; one where there were fewer sources of news, the Fairness Doctrine was in place, and news producers valued a social responsibility to strive for objectivity,” she said. “We took this trusting generation and unleashed them on the wild west of the Internet, where "news" isn't always well researched, objective, or even truthful. Whereas younger people get some level of digital media literacy training in school today, there isn't any institutionalized curriculum delivery for older populations.”

She tried to fill that gap with the older population with evidence based approaches to understanding fact from fiction. She also countered that with the opposite danger–too much mistrust in the media landscape.

“Older generations are often targets of media hacking, phishing, and political manipulation because they are not perceived as digitally savvy,” Feezell said. “I worry that without broader campaigns targeted at helping promote digital media literacy among our elder populations that this will persist and worsen. It's really a problem of delivery; we know what helps, we just need to spread the word.”

For those at Albuquerque Oasis and beyond, Feezell recommends what recent studies suggest. Simple things like checking the URL of a news story to make sure it's familiar, considering the source of your news, and reading "laterally" on important issues to gather a variety of perspectives are highly effective ways to avoid being deceived.

“These tricks help resist media framing effects and help people identify mis- and disinformation when they encounter them. It was really exciting for me to be able to respond in a way that demonstrates the science behind these claims and point to examples of how research being done at UNM feeds into critical contemporary issues,” Feezell said.

It’s a testament to the fact that you can never stop learning. 

“Continuing education among older populations is very important for the community it provides, the mental stimulation it offers, and to keep older people learning new things,” Feezell said. “I get so used to teaching undergraduate and graduate-level students, it's really eye opening to talk with older generations that remember different political contexts and historic events.”

Check out Feezell’s additional research on digital aptitude at UNM’s Department of Political Science.