Media literacy is becoming widespread in the COVID-19 era
Contributing Author Write
With the ongoing pandemic, nationwide protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, and an impending presidential election, there has been a deluge of information in the media and an increase in misinformation.
Media literacy is the ability to understand the medium of frequent online news and assess its legitimacy.
Research and Education Librarian and College of Business Liaison Officer Dana Statton Thompson spoke to The News about the importance of media literacy.
“Becoming aware and thinking about how you consume the news is the first step in becoming media literate,” said Thompson.
Literacy means understanding the news, where it came from, who is writing it for what purpose, and noticing prejudice.
“Having media literacy means looking past prejudice and seeing both sides of a story to find out what the truth or the agency’s agenda is,” Thompson said.
Beyond awareness, there are other steps one should take to understand the media they are consuming and their legitimacy. Mike Caulfield, Director of Blended and Network Learning at Washington State University, created “Four Steps and a Habit” to teach readers how to watch the news.
The four steps to evaluating an article are to check for previous work, put the source upstream, read sideways, and circle back. Thompson also said it is important for the reader to review the media’s emotions.
“When something reflects a very strong feeling, be it happiness, anger, pride, or justification, you may automatically want to share it because you see fit,” Thompson said. “You should take a break and reconsider what you’ve read because it could add to our confirmation bias.”
Verification errors are when people are more likely to accept something as true because they want to believe it, which is a variable in creating fake news.
“When we read things that are already in line with our political worldview, it’s much easier for us to share things like that without doing research,” said Thompson.
Media literacy is important in the face of fake news. If people paused and followed the four steps and a habit, then the spread of fake news may not be as common.
“Often times, fake news sources take a real picture but use it in the wrong context,” Thompson said. “We are trained to believe what we see or to think that photos represent the truth when the truth is really contextual and depends on many different factors.”
Senior PR teacher Elizabeth Thomas is also familiar with verifying the legitimacy of messages and making sure she avoids misinformation.
“I try to avoid reading random Facebook or Twitter posts with outrageous headlines,” said Thomas.
Twitter and Facebook are among several other social media platforms that are known to have plenty of fake news.
“Facebook and Twitter just uncovered about a million Russian bots posting under a fake publication that looked real,” said Thomas. “It was fake news that should influence our choice.”
Thomas has seen firsthand how easily fake news is received.
“A few years ago, some Murray State students wrote a fake post saying there were sharks in Kentucky Lake,” said Thomas. “You also edited an image with Photoshop and it went viral.”
When evaluating the validity of online messages, Thomas refers to Snopes.com.
“If you have any doubts about an article, you can take an article’s headline or website and go to Snopes.com, search it and check the facts,” said Thomas.
Growing up in a highly digital culture, students have their own sources to trust and ways to rate their news.
Alistair Majors, second TESOL major, gets all of his news online and avoids misleading news by checking the source.
“Getting to know the person who was telling the news is a good place to start to see if they’re believable or not,” Majors said.
When Majors hears about popular topics in the media, he is sure to do his own research.
“It’s important to go beyond that and explore what’s happening because I want to have an objective point of view,” Majors said. “I want to see all sides of the story.”
In addition to the majors, Sophia Nardi, sophia, international studies, gets all of her news online, mostly via Twitter.
“On Twitter, the news comes first,” said Nardi. “Famous news organizations all have Twitter accounts and are always up-to-date.”
In considering what is believable and what is not, Nardi follows verified sources. In order for a source to be verified on Twitter, it must meet several standards, including authenticity.
Nardi stays away from sources that are not verified by Twitter. It is also careful about reporting biases and verification errors.
“People can be very biased,” said Nardi. “Even if something is wrong, they will believe it because it comes with their beliefs.”
For those who need help with media evaluation and safe research, the Murray State Library website has a Research Guides tab at lib.murraystate.edu/.
“The media is not bad or angry,” Thompson said. “What you do with the media determines your intent.”