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For US Media Literacy Week, How To Find Reliable Sources, And Other Tips For Being An accomplished news consumer [editorial] | Our opinion


THE PROBLEM: This is US Media Literacy Week, hosted by the National Association for Media Literacy Education. As the association’s website explains, this week’s mission is to “highlight the power of media literacy education and its essential role in education across the country”. Every day, the topic of the week celebrates one of the five components of the definition of media literacy: access, analyze, evaluate, create and act. The week is also celebrated by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, at the LNP | Heard LancasterOnline.

There is good news and there is bad news.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center conducted July 26th through August 8th. Slightly less than half (48%) of US adults say they receive “often” or “sometimes” social media messages.

This is clearly the bad news, especially since we now know from Facebook whistleblowers that the social media giant has done little to stem the tide of harmful misinformation and disinformation that is flooding its platform.

The good news: That 48%, worrying as it is, is a 5 percentage point decrease from 2020. Hopefully this will mark the beginning of a trend in the right direction. Because the lies and conspiracy theories spread by Facebook and other social media platforms have harmed our democracy, our health in this pandemic and our children.

Anti-vaccination forces have used Facebook as a weapon to spread junk science and falsehoods about the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. Partisans have shared conspiracy theories and lies about the 2020 presidential election in an attempt to undermine democracy. Facebook’s algorithms, particularly on Instagram (which it owns), have been relaying harmful information about dieting and eating disorders to children at risk.

Loose laws allow social media giants like Facebook to evade responsibility for maximizing profits at the expense of the public good. As we discovered earlier this month, Facebook and other social media platforms are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms that post third-party content from any legal liability for it. So Facebook is immune even if it publishes harmful content – and it has the incentive to keep republishing such content because it makes a profit.

Until Congress corrects this, it is up to us to fight the spread of misinformation and disinformation on social media. And this is where Media Literacy Week comes in.

School librarians and other educators are making great strides in teaching media literacy to students, and we greatly appreciate their efforts. They know the aim of making children good citizens in 2021 is by giving them the tools to judge what is right and wrong in the information they are bombarded with.

It starts with evaluating the information source itself.

What you are reading now is an editorial, by definition an opinion piece – not a news story. Opinion pages have always been part of newspapers, but it is more important than ever to ensure that they and other forms of comment are clearly delineated as opinion.

The public opinion staff does not report on the news. But LNP | LancasterOnline’s news journalists report the news as objectively as humanly possible, making this newspaper a must-have news source for people who want to know what’s going on in Lancaster County.

Both the news and opinion departments vigorously review the content as it is our responsibility to print only accurate information. We take this responsibility seriously and correct mistakes when we make them, even if we are embarrassed about a slip. This is a measure of whether a news source is credible – its willingness to correct its mistakes. Beware of any source who never admits their mistakes.

Here are a few more ways you can distinguish truly reliable sources from unreliable, even harmful, sources. We’ve offered these tips before, but it’s worth repeating.

– Don’t rely on just one source. This is a basic rule of reporting – and it should apply to news consumers too.

– Choose reliable sources such as newspapers like LNP | LancasterOnline.

Do not share breaking news until the basic elements of the news story have been confirmed. A responsible news organization will indicate if some details are unconfirmed but less reliable sources are not. Remember that early reports, especially of major tragedies, are often incomplete or inaccurate.

– Read information critically: does it make sense? Is it backed by facts? Are sources cited? Does the author have a recognizable agenda? Is it clear who wrote or created it?

– Think before you share.

– Be sure to differentiate between opinion, satire and news.

– Use fact checking websites like PolitiFact.com or FactCheck.org. Duke University’s Reporters’ Lab (reporterslab.org/fact-checking) maintains a database of fact-checking websites around the world.

– Click the About section of a website to see who is creating it. Increasingly, political organizations are launching websites that look like local news sites but contain political messages.

– Beware of “deepfakes” – videos that have been altered through the use of artificial intelligence. They’re dangerous because they can look and sound real.

The Harvard University Library offers these additional suggestions:

– “Look at the source. Weird domain names or websites that end in ‘lo’ … are signs that you should be careful. “

– “Look for visual cues: Fake news websites may be sloppy or unprofessional in design and use ALL UPPERCASE too often.”

– “When in doubt … ask a librarian.” (This is a solid suggestion. The best librarians are passionate defenders of truth and accuracy.)

And here are some more suggestions from the National Association for Media Literacy Education website (which has great tools for teachers):

– Be careful not to be gullible. “Believing everything you see and hear can lead to problems when the information you are consuming is partially or completely inaccurate. It can lead you on to try an unproven remedy, or it could even affect the way you vote on the next election. “

– Make “conscious decisions about what type of media you spend time with and how much time you spend with these media. … Remember that not all content is created equal. “

We live in the so-called “information age”: Much of it comes to us around the clock. We may not have a choice how much information bombards us, but we do have a choice what information we believe and share. It can be exhausting to separate the wheat from the chaff. But we as citizens have a responsibility to do this.

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