Media comes in many forms and today we can consume news through broadcast (radio or television), print, and the internet. Additionally, information is very accessible and easy to share across online platforms. While it is important to be informed and to stay up to date, we should also know how to be media literate and sort through everything we come across. Learning to be media literate can be difficult and overwhelming with the overabundance of information we have access to. It’s important to keep in mind though that you do not necessarily need to be tech savvy in order to be media literate (Gillmor et al., 2020). Media literacy is a useful tool for both media consumption and media creation.
Categorizing Information – The Start of Media Literacy
Before learning about media literacy, it is helpful to understand what type of content is being received. Knowing the type of content can help us assess what the information is saying and if it is credible (Gillmor et al., 2020).
- News – Information based on facts obtained from firsthand observation or reports. This information is typically verified from other reputable sources.
- Opinion – Opinion pieces typically advocate for specific ideas and draw conclusions based on a personal interpretation of facts.
- Analysis – This content is based on factual reporting and also incorporates expert knowledge on the subject.
- Sponsored Content – This is also known as paid content. This is produced on behalf of an organization or person that has paid the media provider to provide the content.
- Satire – This information is not meant to be factual. Instead, it often exaggerates irony and humor to make a point.
Media Consumption – Methods to Avoid Misinformation
As we receive different forms of news through media, it is important to be skeptical of the things we read, see, or hear. Even trustworthy sources and media outlets make mistakes from time to time by trying to meet deadlines or report on breaking news. While we should be skeptical of media, we should not be distrustful.
Misinformation spreads easily by people who genuinely believe that information, and we tend to look for information that we agree with. This is known as the “echo chamber effect” and can affect how well informed we really are (Gillmor et al., 2020). In order to be well-informed, we need to find other sources of information that offer different perspectives from our own. Being more openminded can help us recognize our own biases and reassess assumptions we make (Gillmor et al., 2020). Even if we surround ourselves with information and views we agree with, we should still know how to verify what we come across. To check a source’s claims and share accurate information, use the SIFT technique (Gillmor et al., 2020).
S – Stop
- Before sharing a social media post or a news article online, check to see if you know the source of the information.
- When you find information that makes you feel very strong emotions, you may be inclined to share it with others, so they are also informed. However, information that seems too good to be true, unbelievable, strange, or confusing are good indicators that you should stop before sharing.
I – Investigate
- Take a minute to determine where the information is coming from. You can do a quick internet search to find the source’s published information online.
- Ask yourself where you are finding this information and if it comes from a familiar person or reputable organization.
- Online popularity, meaning large amounts of likes or shares, does not necessarily make people or organizations trustworthy.
F – Find Better Coverage
- If you are skeptical of information you find, look for the same information from sources that you trust.
- Seeing the first link on a Google search is not likely going to give you all the information you need. Google search results may include ads or sometimes websites that may not house accurate information.
- If multiple reputable resources have the same content, it is likely accurate information.
T – Trace to Original
- Follow any claims or quotes back to the original source. Look through cited research or verify that quotes come from experts or other trustworthy individuals.
- Check to see if information has been misquoted or if images have been edited.
- While you are verifying information, do not click on unknown links from unfamiliar sources.
The SIFT technique takes time and practice. As you get better at using SIFT, not all of the steps need to be completed in order to properly assess media content (Gillmor et al., 2020). You may be able to quickly view the information and find signs that the content is or is not reliable.
The Slow News Approach
While we receive information, we should continue to ask questions about what it is telling us and not take everything at face value. This research is similar to what you might do before making a large purchase. You typically wouldn’t buy the first option you see. Instead, you would read reviews, find what features the product offers, and browse other sources to compare prices. This should also be applied to media consumption. Rumors and misinformation often spread faster than f
act-based information because it takes time to gather and verify facts (Gillmor et al., 2020). To combat this, you may want to adopt a slow news approach. This means instead of reading and believing the first headlines you see on a subject, consider the validity of the news and find confirmation of the information from other sources (Gillmor et al., 2020).
Media Creation – Creating, Posting, Sharing, and Commenting on Social Media
In addition to media consumption, you may also be a media creator. Many of us are likely a media creator to some degree by posting photos on social media, commenting on others’ posts, or sharing news articles with friends (Gillmor et al., 2020). Keep the following tips in mind before you create any type of media.
- Similar to media consumption, before posting or sharing information, do your research.
- The more knowledgeable you are on the subject, the better you can explain or share it with others.
- If you are using social media platforms to share content, understand their rules and guidelines on what material and language are allowed.
- Be aware that on social media platforms you may come across posts or claims that you disagree with.
- Always be respectful and civil towards others who have differing opinions or views. While you do not have to agree with everything you see, be open and listen to others.
- Be aware of what you may comment on others’ posts. These comments are not private and even though you may disagree with the post, your comments may cause negative reactions to others.
Ensure Privacy and Security
- Make sure the software on your devices (phone, laptop, tablet, etc.) is regularly updated.
- Do not click on unknown links from unfamiliar sources.
- Make informed choices regarding how you view online content or services.
Media literacy is a useful skill that takes time and practice to learn. In general, when we are consuming news, we should do our best to not believe everything we see or hear. By practicing the SIFT technique, we can stop, investigate, find similar information, and trace content back to its original source. Before we share information or comment on what other people say or share, we should do our research on the subject first. In addition, while we should stay informed and up to date, we should also consider limiting our news consumption. Instead of taking in large amounts of information each day, limit yourself to an hour a day, or even just a small recap once a week to review the news. Practice your media literacy skills the next time you read or watch the news.
Gillmor, D., Roschke, K., Sepessy, C., Shaugnessy, Q. (2020). Mediactive: How to Participate in Our Digital World [MOOC]. Canvas. https://courses.cpe.asu.edu/browse/cronkite/courses/cpe-cronkite-digital-world?utm_source=osher