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Media Literacy

Media literacy: the cure for polarization



We all know Einstein’s definition of insanity. I therefore propose that we look at the challenge we are facing on the political stage from a new perspective.

After the events of last week caused by a small group of misguided souls, and now that the new guidance has been approved, it is time to begin the healing process. So let’s remove Trump from this conversation.

The remedy for the polarization between left and right will mainly be how our own human nature affects our ability to properly obtain, analyze, and share information (media literacy). The thought is that we will not resolve our differences by trying to convince the other side of our superior beliefs and strategies. We all have much more in common than what we disagree on. Our political challenges are not due to our system’s disease – they are symptoms of a deeper, more pressing problem. We suffer from the “decay of truth”.

Situations and characteristics from which we all suffer are at the root of the polarization: We have never experienced the media avalanche that we are trying to deal with today. Combine that with the fact that much of it is misinformation or misinformation and has not been properly researched or written to follow the principles of professional journalism. In general, we have trouble finding the truth. Not the Fox truth. Not the CNN truth. Or the social media truth – but the empirical truth. Agreement on the truth is the basis for trust. Reliable research shows that trust is dwindling. This creeping decline is serious, because trust is the basis of progress.

Two barriers to realizing the truth are: 1.) Our Affirmation Bias – We willingly accept information that is consistent with our current beliefs and decline what is not. There are reliable media sources. But too many publishers flatter certain segments of the political bell-curve. These targeted viewers will find a source they believe in. Then they too often only feed on this source – and thus strengthen their bias. 2.) Negativity Bias: Given the choice of paying attention to good or bad news, our conditioning for thousands of years drives us to focus on the bad. In the more violent world of the past, being mindful of what could hurt us was vital. However, data on falling crime and war casualties combined with improvements in health care, poverty and the general conveniences of modern life show that there has never been a safer and more comfortable time to live. Of course there are problems. We will always have it. And humanity is good at finding the solutions.

Simply put, the solution to our political polarization is media literacy. When it comes to finding the truth, we must combat our vulnerability to falsehoods due to our bias. We also have to keep in mind that some media platforms benefit from ruthlessly exploiting our prejudices. (If it bleeds, it leads.)

When we remember this, we remain vigilant to some mediums that are taking advantage of our prejudices just to make a profit. Whether it’s algorithms working behind the scenes on digitally powered social media platforms, or intentionally biased 24-hour news channels.

The lack of media literacy is a pressing problem worldwide. NATO has made it a strategic priority. Here in Livingston, our headmaster Don Viegut encourages and empowers the faculty to incorporate media literacy into their courses. In addition, our Getting Better Foundation has produced a documentary film called “Trust Me” about the causes and solutions of media illiteracy. It premiered at the US State Department. And 28,000 educators have been given access to the film and its study guide. It will be available to our community later this spring. In the meantime, whether we lean left or right, we should all focus on properly sourcing and analyzing the media we receive in order to build trust through the truth.

Joe Phelps

Paradise valley


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