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Media literacy in the digital age


In the age of social media, we scroll through a deluge of information, mostly in the form of memes or videos from talking heads.

Fairness and accuracy seem less important than moving the agenda forward. Why? It’s the agenda that sells. As more and more larger media – be it newspapers, magazines, radio or television programs – swallow up smaller media, media conglomerates emerge. These conglomerates have businesses all over the nation and the world; they don’t care about the health of a community; they care about the profit.

As sex sells, so do other things that feed on our emotions. An expert who validates your thoughts makes you feel validated. A story about rescuing an abandoned puppy can make you tender or hopeful, like chicken soup to your soul. News anchors comparing coronavirus to 1918 Spanish flu can scare you. Perhaps the most common emotion that talking heads try to spark is anger. This anger American against American and friend against friend is a threat to the unity of the United States of America.

As a high school English teacher, I taught a unit on rhetorical strategies, the tools of convincing speaking and writing. I valued ethos (appeal to speaker’s credibility), pathos (appeal to audience emotions), and logos (appeal to audience logic) and encouraged students to find these in advertisements, articles, and political speeches. I believe it is easier to guard against tampering when you can recognize it more easily. Training your mind to see them is like training your mind to question the meaning behind a person’s persuasive words. I believe this is becoming an indispensable skill in the digital age that too many people are not yet fully developed.

Aside from learning this and other rhetorical strategies, how can you keep your mind safe from misinformation?

  • Always check the source. If you are not familiar with the provider, read their About page or google them.

  • Does the author have a legitimate interest in your believing this information?

  • Are you an authority on the subject?

  • Do they adequately represent both sides of the problem?

  • Check the information with other media providers. Is it the same?

  • When factual information is referenced or given, do the authors show you where they got the information from? Is it a credible source?

  • Are there multiple spelling and grammatical errors?

  • A URL with the extension .org does not automatically make it credible. “Org” stands for organization, and not every organization is impartial.

  • Are words with strong connotations often used in the information?

  • Do the “news” you read have a clear position on an issue?

  • Trust your instincts. If something sounds too far-fetched to be true, it probably is. Fact check.


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