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Media Literacy

Opinion: Media literacy is the antidote to this infodemy


Imagine a media-literate America – a place where the daily norm would be to review polarizing memes, Facebook and Twitter posts, and other sources of misinformation.

Imagine Americans using our remote controls to pause the cable news on their television screens to wonder: is this true?

Forget the super powers of reading minds, flying, or having superhuman powers – imagine using our internal radar to alert us to what is wrong and what is real. Instead of believing and spreading misinformation, not only would people become aware of its existence, they would stop spreading it.

Media literacy could affect any part of our lives – we know because the lack of it is staggering. Instead of unwittingly surrendering as victims, we would be forced to search for reliability. We would trust the process of science instead of being frozen in our distrust of journalists and experts trying to spread the truth.

Some may laugh at rapper Nicki Minaj spreading her vaccine reluctance to her 22.8 million Twitter followers – and repeating unsubstantiated claims that her cousin’s friend in Trinidad got swollen testicles from the vaccine – but her posts and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson advertisements for this aren’t funny.

Much like those making unsubstantiated claims that the last presidential election had been rigged, the January 6 riot was just a friendly protest and countless other dangerous falsehoods, Minaj used her platform to spread lies.

The sobering truth is that a lot of people have been deceived. More Americans – now 48%, up from 38% in 2018 – polled by the Pew Research Center said they believe the federal government should do more to curb false information on the internet.

We live in an infodemic and suffer from its deadly consequences. Misinformation (inaccurate and incorrect information) and disinformation (intentionally incorrect information) are so confused that many cannot see or appreciate the difference to factual information if one or both is present. No wonder conspiracy theorists take advantage of so many.

On July 15, US surgeon general Vivek Murthy declared health misinformation an urgent medical public health crisis.

The World Health Organization published a joint statement with the United Nations, UNICEF, UNESCO and others in September 2020 recognizing that the Covid-19 pandemic is the first in history to affect technology and social media on a large scale be used to ensure the security and information of people, productive and networked. However, WHO officials also said the infodemic continues to undermine the global response and jeopardize measures to control the pandemic.

As the WHO pointed out and the headlines reveal daily, misinformation costs human lives. WHO offers online resources to help flatten the infodemic curve. And it called on member states to develop their national action plans that focus on empowering communities to develop solutions and resilience to misinformation and disinformation.

But that’s a pipe dream when you consider that the GOP in Texas enacted laws to deny private social media companies the right to ban users for spreading disinformation. Governor Greg Abbott enacted his absurd and hypocritical Freedom from Online Censorship Act on September 9th, which prevents digital companies from banning or banning a user based on that person’s “point of view” or the way that point of view is expressed to restrict.

So it’s up to us. Would it make a difference to know the difference between facts and lies? Would we have more respect for one another? Make smarter decisions? Would we be less selfish and more united? Would more of us be vaccinated today? Would we vote differently? The answer to these questions is yes, but we need to get honest with ourselves and realize that we don’t know everything. Then we have to go on the path of discovery and education.

There are many helpful tools online. The Washington, DC-based News Literacy Project, a non-partisan national not-for-profit educational institution, provides programs and resources to teach, learn, and share the skills necessary to be smart, active consumers of news and information and equals and to be committed participants in a democracy. The organization recently posted a useful graphic on Twitter to help teachers train news literacy in polarizing times.

We can no longer live in silos and consume online information fed by powerful algorithms that remove rabbit holes full of falsehoods. We are all capable of learning and growing, even as adults. We can all do better if we make it a priority. But first we have to choose to do better. – San Antonio Express-News / Tribune New Service


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