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How to improve media literacy in the age of misinformation


Following the violence at the Capitol, fueled by misinformation circulating on the Internet about the outcome of the presidential election, AL.com asked media experts for their thoughts on improving media literacy in this political era. Here are some of the comments:

– Dennis Bailey, Montgomery attorney and longtime media lawyer, said the best approach is for news consumers to analyze all sides of a problem.

“I would recommend that you don’t always listen to the news that you agree to and that the important thing is to hear the news that you disagree, depending on whether you have the time,” Bailey said . “But getting things from a single source is probably not a good idea in today’s world.”

-Phillip Rawls, retired professor of political science at Auburn University and former longtime journalist with The Associated Press, said websites need to better label opinion and analysis stories and differentiate them from news reports.

“New organization websites often have a small label” sponsored “or” sponsored content “added to their ads, but to the average person this material looks a lot like news,” Rawls said. “A better job of branding news websites would help the public differentiate between what is news, what is opinion, and what is advertising. Some news organizations let employees write news and opinion pieces. This also leads to confusion among the public and reduces the value of a well-known byline. “

– Robbyn Taylor, lecturer in journalism and communication at Troy University, said there was a need for a “national understanding” of the differences in media consumed by users.

She said, like Rawls, that there needs to be a differentiation in the types of messages consumed online. Taylor that “perhaps with a disclaimer” at the start of a TV news program or on a website differentiates opinion from fact-based reporting.

She said switching between harsh news content and wayward programming on 24-hour cable television was confusing for viewers.

“Because these newscasts are running sequentially, there is a misunderstanding of what the opinion is and what the news section is,” said Taylor. “We see this on the Today Show, where the hosts think about the topics of the day and then talk about their families before throwing it back to the newsroom.”

She said that the public in general must take responsibility for their own media literacy.

Taylor said, “We can’t pretend we’re the victims of this anymore. We know it is happening. We have to be good media consumers. “

-AJ Bauer, assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama and author of News on the Right, said that a stronger and more robust discussion of facts was needed.

He said the Federal Communications Commission could take on a stronger leadership role in cracking down on totally false information being disseminated through broadcast platforms. He said, “We had a degenerate FCC for 70 to 80 years. But there is nothing preventing a new government from engaging strong regulators to do this. “

Justin Blankenship, assistant professor of journalism at Auburn University, said that “ideally, some media literacy in education would solve this problem.”

He said he had realistic “doubts asking people to do this hard work” to review the source of the information they consume on a daily basis. He suggested taking basic journalism or mass media skills to a core credit in college, or even introducing the class to high school.

“That we teach how journalism works, how to review sources and how to evaluate sources,” he said. “That you ask about this person, ‘What is their skin in the game?’ It’s about whether to trust something that comes from USA Today or one of those weird sites. I would hope it would help teach people to do this. “

-Victor Pickard, an American media scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the 2019 book “Democracy Without Journalism? In the face of the disinformation society “said that greater media literacy” is always important “but that it puts responsibility on the audience rather than on the” enormous unaccountable power of irresponsible news outlets and social media companies “.

Pickard is an advocate for a better funded public media system. In his book, he points to the potential of publicly funded newspapers.

“Ultimately, we will need structural interventions and sensible regulations,” said Pickard. “This should include a better funded public media system that offers a reliable alternative to for-profit news and information. It could also involve a return to the public interest obligations that we once tried to apply to broadcasters. “

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