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Media Literacy

From our point of view: All I want for Christmas is improved media skills


‘Tis the time of hope, faith and joy. Like everyone else, the Colombian’s editorial team puts together a wish list.

Of course we will ask Santa Claus for conscientious elected representatives, free and fair elections and a new bridge. (Doesn’t everyone have these items on their list?) But most of all, we’re hoping for improved media literacy among residents of Clark County and elsewhere.

You can’t put that under the tree and open it on Christmas morning. It will require diligence and determination on the part of our neighbors, and it will require behavior change on the part of many.

Whether it is about COVID-19 vaccines or presidential elections or climate change, misinformation is pervasive in American society, and far too many people cannot or do not want to separate truth from fiction. The reasons are easy to see; A January study by Pew Research found that 86 percent of American adults get their messages on a smartphone. Much of that comes from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, where misinformation like pumpkin pie is being devoured with lots of whipped cream on top.

Recent revelations from Facebook’s internal operations have highlighted the shortcomings. As of 2017, the platform’s algorithm prioritized posts that requested “angry” emojis over those that were “liked”. The result was that emotional and provocative content was more likely to appear on your Facebook feed.

As the Washington Post stated in October, “The company’s data scientists confirmed in 2019 that posts that trigger emojis for angry reactions are disproportionately likely to contain misinformation, toxicity and low-quality messages.”

“Low quality news” is an understatement. During the last two presidential elections, millions of stories were shared on Facebook from nonexistent newspapers. If you believed or shared a “news” story from the Denver Guardian or the Baltimore Gazette, you have been deceived; they don’t exist except in the form of someone sitting in a basement making up stories.

The result is a society where falsehoods about elections or vaccines continue to spread. The result is a society in which truthfulness – the quality of appearing or being felt to be true – carries more weight than truth. We have seen the consequences of this alternate reality, with thousands of people believing enough lies to try to overthrow the United States government.

A new information disruption commission, sponsored by the Aspen Institute, calls for “new regulations for social media platforms, stricter, more consistent rules for misinformation” super-spreaders “that amplify harmful falsehoods, and new investments in authoritative journalism and organizations that Teach critical thinking and media literacy, ”according to The Associated Press.

Regulation of the media is difficult and dangerous. The marketplace of ideas relies on an informed public – but one that can see the truth.

With this in mind, several states have considered laws to improve media literacy. In Washington, a bill tabled earlier this year (Senate Bill 5242) to support “media literacy and digital citizenship” failed to get off the committee.

While lawmakers must consider the ramifications of this nation’s information disruption, the real solution lies with us. Discriminatory media consumption, starting with the simple question “Is this story from a reliable source?” Is the first step towards a merry Christmas for those who care about the truth.


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