Media Literacy

Another day, another link to an article someone is using as “source” for their argument only to discover it was not the source they were looking for.

This one surprised me because it was someone who is usually savvy.  This is someone who has an advanced degree too which usually means publishing papers citing legitimate sources, but even this person fell prey to it.

Two things struck me when I looked at the link: it is barely a news source and the article was actually an op-ed piece.

Two strikes and it should be out as a citation, in my opinion.

Last week, an NPR report was done about the fact more and more people think that “media literacy” should be added to school curriculums – elementary through college.  His assertion is that too many times, people see a blip across social media and assume someone has already vetted the article for validity.  People need to be taught how to assess the validity of an article.

Hearing this and seeing it happen, I am saddened by the fact we have hit a point where we need this type of education.   But then I realize that my standard for things is totally different because I learned my lessons about the importance when I was debating in high school.

The type of debate that I did tended to follow current affairs rather closely, so sources were abundant.  I learned pretty early on that there are good sources and bad ones. And while the bad ones can be fun to use just to see how good your opponent was, they also could make you lose the debate in a minute if discovered.  And not only would you lose, you would get a mark by your name as someone who was willing to use questionable sources making you a target.  These comments from the judges, by the way, were made open for anyone to see. Having your reputation marred by that was reason enough to vet all of your sources carefully.  I made that mistake once when a friend on the team gave me a citation for my argument that was just in the local paper that day.  The problem? It was totally given to me out of context.  It cost me the debate and resulted in me pretty much having to toss myself to the mercy of the judge.  Never did I do that again.

And I work hard not to do it today too.  I have found people using sites that are funded by special interest groups. I have found some that are put forth as an investigative reporting type of article but is actually an op-ed piece.  I have found

I have found people using sites that are funded by special interest groups. I have found some that are put forth as an investigative reporting type of article but is actually an op-ed piece.  I have found sites that look like legitimate sites but the URL is wrong. I have found people’s personal blog posts being used as “real facts” when all it is a one person’s perspective.

(Feel free to quote anything I say as fact, by the way, I’m good with it……kidding.)

What doesn’t help the situation is the other factor that is prevalent in social media right now which is the gaslighting tactics of the other side.

Let me give you an example.

A friend posted a meme the other day that was a quotation taken from a trial of a white supremacist who killed someone.  Given the things happening right now in this country, it was relevant.

Another mutual friend posted a response: “Not true. It was in the news a lot at the time. It’s time to stop selective fear mongering.”

Immediately the friend who posted it backpedaled.  “Oh, I thought I had read this was true – I’m sorry – you’re right that I should be better about verifying things.”

Here was the problem: it was true.  The gaslighting friend holds some very conservative beliefs that prevent any consideration being given to another side of things. I have watched this person gaslight others over and over again on any news item not aligned with personal beliefs.  Fuck facts. Facts are subjective, right?

The person who originally posted that called the gaslighter on it after doing more of her own research.  The response was that “selective reporting of news on TV versus online is why it is a fearmongering by the press”.  Let that one sink in for a moment – if all news online isn’t reported on TV, the press is fearmongering.

It is really easy to hit “repost” or “retweet” online.
It is really easy to hit “reply” and type out a quick, short response.
It is really easy to try to negate facts with feelings in a quick post.

It is also really easy to open up the article and find the “about” page of a website and read it.

It is also really easy to recognize news from op-ed pieces (hint: news articles don’t generally use words like “I” and “me” and “you” in them unless it is a quote of “what you can do to prevent forest fires” or something.)

It is also really easy to go to Snopes or to see what they say.

It is also really easy to use Google to see if other agencies are reporting it too – and what are they saying.

We live in an age where you can do a search online and find many many sites supporting whatever crazy idea you have.  But just like you cannot use fiction as fact for a science paper in school, you have to apply the same discretion online.  We can blame technology and facebook and Bill Gates for the fact untrue things can be put on the internet, but the Internet is just a tool.  It’s just like blaming the gun for someone getting killed or blaming an oppressed group for causing their own oppression.

We have to be savvier than this if we are going to continue to use the Internet.

We need to get better at recognizing news sources from someone’s parsed version of the news that fits within their personal beliefs.

So maybe we do, as a country,  need a remedial course in media literacy.

Because if we are smarter about what information we do propagate online, the fake news business will be less appealing as fewer and fewer people feed them.

Or maybe I’m being too optimistic.


What do you think?

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