Media literacy education for media consumers of all ages promotes critical thinking and understanding to help all people make more informed choices about the news content they consume. I have written before about the power of critical thinking in the modern world.
The answer is NOT to ‘question everything’ though because this has its own problems and may even be counterproductive. One of the problems with critical thinking instruction about disinformation is that it steals our attention from more careful treatment of issues. Without careful evaluation of the rhetorical traps and logical fallacies provided by supporters of disinformation (e.g. tobacco company research), there is potential that your perspective can be distorted.
Given the cultural context of information consumption, media literacy may not be the answer. It is a fine line between critical thinking and cynicism, whereby young people may become confused and frustrated by exploring multiple perspectives. Conversations with students about the continuum of options when evaluating media – between not trusting anyone and blindly trusting a handful of experts – are essential, as are broader discussions about human communication in the modern world, optimism, open-mindedness, ethical communication, and intellectual humility.
Quick and easy solutions may make the controversy go away, but they won’t address the underlying problems. Instead, people of all ages need to understand that we view media through our own lens. Relational dynamics of social media and how the interplay of personal and societal biases influence the way that messages are interpreted is crucial. The solutions need to come from us as users as much as the technology itself.
It is important that parents and teachers demonstrate a willingness to invest time into the development of digital and media literacy in order to stay informed about conversations about media literacy. Videos like Smarter EveryDay’s Why Your Newsfeed Sucks (and others) provide accessible, engaging tips, using real-world examples, to increase knowledge and understanding about how to discern truth online. In order for students to develop media literacy autonomy, teachers also need to ensure that they are media literate themselves. It’s as much about nurturing a critical disposition in yourself as the young people you influence.
- Curate news for yourself – it begins with you!
- Challenge your assumptions – read at least one thing a week from a news source or a perspective that you disagree with – practice a disconfirmation bias. Be aware of the echo chambers which may be present in the news you consume. Question your own knowledge, especially if you are unable to remember the context for how you learnt that knowledge in the first place. An American initiative takes the challenge of breaking out of your echo chamber one step further.
- Go past the headline or image – what’s the full story and what is the source?
- Don’t reflexively re-tweet (or share)! Engage thoughtfully in the evolving landscape of digital democracy.
- Don’t assume that biased means false – it is possible to be biased while telling the truth.
- Double-check questionable information. Search online for additional sources in ways that will pop filter bubbles and break out of echo chambers. Check facts.
- More tips here.
As media consumers, we have more power than ever. There are greater opportunities for participation with the media today, but this also comes with more responsibility.