This week’s discussion about media literacy I found to be very important as we spend more and more time on the internet.
The red head example that we talked about in class is a situation that happens so frequently in our lives. Either someone you know shares a story on social media, or you may come across it yourself while browsing the web. They always have these very interesting titles that are written in a way that feels legitimate. But a quick Google search typically shows that the story was grossly exaggerated, or even entirely fabricated.
Even some high-profile media outlets have fallen for this before. This local news station in the US were fed fake names about a plane crash that occurred back in 2013 and read them on air without realizing. Even CNN fell for a story misidentifying a joke flag at a pride event as an ISIS flag.
Almost anyone can post something online nowadays, sometimes with negative implications for our online discourse.
For example, conspiracy theories exist for practically every major event in the news cycle nowadays. Contrast this to the past; I think hardly anyone believed that the Hindenburg disaster was an inside job, or that the sinking of the Titanic was a false flag operation.
Of course, I wouldn’t want to go back to the old days, where the only way you could keep up with the news was sitting down at 6 o’clock and watching the evening broadcast. The level of connectivity that we have today is incredibly important and useful.
However, people need to take more responsibility for the content that they read and examine it more critically.
For example, something that we discussed in class was confirmation bias which has become an increasing problem. Users are able to pick and choose what they want to consume more than ever. However, a big part of that is also the way social media algorithms work. In order to drive up the number of clicks and keep people’s attention, they’ve become fine tuned to give people what they want to see/read.
In fact, many groups have tried to manipulate the discourse using these platforms and their algorithms, and even turning around and reducing people’s trust in the mainstream media.
Over time I’ve come up with some strategies that tend to help me figure out if something is real or not.
First off, I consider the source and when it was published.
Sometimes these stories are published on sites that no one has ever heard of, but sound official, like “The Weekly Journal”. I would do a quick search to see if there’s any information on its background, or who runs the site. If I can’t figure out who runs the site, or even just a basic background about them, that already raises major red flags.
The next thing I do is do a quick Google search to see what comes up on the web. If something is real, there should at least be a couple of other reputable sources that have covered the same story, or there should be some research papers that back it up.
If I search a topic and nothing comes up, that’s a big question.
If neither one of these strategies has yielded any positive results, then the last thing I would do is manually go into the story and look up their sources. If there are no sources, or their sources are equally questionable, then at this point I would probably walk away from the story and forget about it.
So far this strategy has worked well, and kept me from falling for some of the more outlandish stories. For example, this post on Reddit claiming that Kim Jong Un was in a ‘vegetative state’ drove me crazy. People were engaged in such baseless speculation and many of them so easily believed the story.
The first thing I did was examine the source. Sorry to jpost, but frankly I’ve never heard of them before, and researching their background didn’t reveal any information either.
Then I did a quick Google search to see what other news outlets were say. Something as major as this would definitely be picked up by at least 1 major news outlet. Of course, there were no reports in other news outlets that even came close to that.
At this point, I actually just dismissed the story and didn’t even bother looking into it anymore. I was certain that this was just speculation, so I didn’t waste any more of my time. Lo and behold, a couple months later, looks like Kim Jong Un is very much alive and it looks like he hasn’t missed any meals in the interim.
While it may take some time to get the general public to learn these skills, I’m certainly glad that we’re discussing these issues during our education. An informed people make informed decisions and prevents raging fires of misinformation.
In a sense, it’s like what Smokey Bear says, only you can prevent forest fires.