Media Literacy Toolkit – PEN America
The spread of disinformation threatens the very fabric of our democracy, with misleading and false narratives undermining our ability to engage in fact-based public discourse and influence people’s attitudes and behaviors. As we navigate the onslaught of misleading content infiltrating our news feeds on topics from the pandemic to protests to elections, it is vital that we all become more discerning consumers of information and news. PEN America’s Knowing the News project provides media literacy training to empower the public to spot false and misleading information and prevent it from spreading. Based on this curriculum, here are five quick tips to help prevent disinformation.
1. Take control of your digital experience.
Regularly run scans of how and where you are consuming information. From social media? Directly from news agencies? Stay tuned, diversify your news diet, and look for credible sources of information such as professional news agencies, technical experts, or official sources where relevant.
2. Stop and question your reactions to things you see online.
Disinformation lives from engagements – likes and shares – on social media platforms. Bad actors make headlines to spark your emotions and encourage you to get the word out about their posts, even if they are false or misleading. If you see something that seems too far-fetched to be true, or that makes you particularly angry or emotional, it could be an attempt to mislead or deceive. Before taking the bait, take a step back and question what you see.
3. Understand what you are seeing: distinguish between news and opinions.
Some stories look like news but are actually opinion pieces. Is it news? Does a friend tweet their opinion? Some ads are designed to read like articles. Before you click Share or Forward, you should first consider the nature and purpose of the content.
4. Check the captions on pictures and videos.
Images, videos, memes, and other visual content can be intentionally mis-subtitled or taken out of context to mislead. Take into account the time and place of what you see. When you feel like you are turning a pro, try a reverse image search. Here’s a tool to get you started.
5. Verify with a quick fact check before sharing.
Not sure how true a story is? Check before giving anything to others. Check out the About Us page on unfamiliar pages. Do it on google or another search engine along with the terms “true”, “false” or “hoax”. This is known as “lateral reading”. Make fact checks a regular part of your online routine.