No matter what, you’re not safe from what’s now come to be known as “fake news.” Whether you watch the news every night on TV, you have ANY kind of social media account, or you talk to friends about things going on in the world, you’re constantly in danger of being manipulated to believe that false information is true.
Enter media literacy.
Media literacy provides a framework to analyze, assess, evaluate, and create messaging and content in various forms.
For those of us who grew up before the Internet age, “media literacy” isn’t necessarily a familiar term. Only several decades ago, we lived in a world where only a handful of news entities existed, and they took the responsibility to base their journalism on accurate sources seriously – their network depended on it.
NOTE: Of course, this doesn’t mean that all news was ever 100% truthful or necessarily well-written, but the lack of competition and sales revenue attached to eye-catching content did create a totally different world for journalists than the one that exists today with the 24-hour news cycle.
Today, anyone can publish an article and upload it to the Internet. Since practically anyone can whip up a URL attached to a quasi-professional-looking webpage, we now live in a society where any off-hand musing or false information can be presented as seemingly legitimate.
Think of it in terms of rumors. Back in the day, rumors could only get as far as word of mouth would take it – otherwise, those rumors had to make it through editors and other gatekeepers before making it to a large audience. Today, rumors posted online can reach millions of people instantaneously, allowing false information to spread like wildfire.
So how do you combat “fake news” and get to the real truth? Here are two questions to consider when you encounter a new piece of information:
What’s the source?
The term “studies show” could mean many things. To identify a reliable study, find out where it was published if it’s been peer-reviewed, and how many participants took part? Headlines can easily manipulate readers by referencing a study out of context. Whenever applicable, look for a citation, then consider who’s funding the research being discussed to assess possible bias.
What’s being sold?
Every single piece of messaging we receive is being funded and created by someone who’s trying to get us to do something – it’s called a “call to action.” A call to action isn’t necessarily anything evil - it could be as simple as a wedding invitation asking you to RSVP. But it could also be a political advertisement trying to feed you false information about a candidate in order to get you to cast your vote a certain way.
Next time you share an article on Facebook, check your source and do a quick Google search to make sure you aren’t a part of the fake news cycle!
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