An important aspect of civic engagement is to be an informed citizen on issues that impact the community, the country, and the world. However, a growing concern in light of technological development and the rise of social media is where to find trustworthy information to in order to make educated political decisions and to inform our perspectives.
What is Media Literacy?
The National Association For Media Literacy Education defines “Media Literacy” as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication. Specifically, media literacy involves learning how to critically analyze and consume information in order to be more effective members of the community.
Grow Your Media Literacy
When consuming media, follow these three tips:
- Determine the Purpose of the Source: The purpose of the source can affect what information is presented and the way it is presented in order to have the intended effect on the reader. As an example, it could be to entertain or inform. It could be helpful to research the the news source and explore their website. Some websites might have an about section that states the intent of the organization. The domain name can also hint at the organizations purpose, such as .edu, .gov, etc. Is the domain name the correct one that corresponds to the organization (e.g npr.org) or is it an imitation (e.g npr.co.com)? What credibility does the organization have in relation to the subject?
- Analyze the Author of the Article: What authority does the author have on the subject matter? Is the topic related to their expertise or field of work? Do they have appropriate qualifications? If the author is employed to write articles for an organization, what is their role? Are they a journalist or a columnist? Journalists have a code of ethics and have to be nonpartisan and objective reporters of information. Columnists are opinion writers whose purpose is to state their opinions and have dialogue with the public. Identifying this distinction can help us discern opinions from facts and can inform us on how to interpret the information presented.
- Critically evaluate the Information: It is important to have a healthy dose of skepticism when consuming information. This doesn’t mean we should be untrusting. Rather, the goal of being critical is to become better learners by distinguishing credible information and allowing ourselves to relate to the information.
Here are some possible questions to help you evaluate the material:
- Is where I am reading the information the original source? If not, can I find the original source?
- When was this information published or released?
- How might different people interpret the information?
- Who benefits and who might be hurt by this information?
- What are some potential issues with the way the information was collected?
- What information is being omitted?
- How was the information presented? How does this relate to the role of the organization and the author?
- How does this fit into what I already know?
- Expand your media diet by following multiple news sources, preferably offering different perspectives. Watch/read from more than one source about a topic. Look for commonalities and patterns between the different sources.
- Give it time: Information about a news event might deepen, develop or change.
- Slow down: Headlines can be misleading. Help stop the spread of misinformation by only sharing articles and videos you have read or thoroughly watched.
- Talk to friends and family about media literacy.
Further build your media literacy skills with these sources:
- Catch Crash Course’s free media literacy series
- Review the National Association for Media Literacy Education’s informational one sheet
- Read these research tips provided by the University of Utah’s Marriott Library
- Watch the Hinckley Institute Forum “Overcoming Fake News: Media Literacy in the New Age of Politics”
Remember, it is okay to not know everything. What’s important is that we learn to recognize what sources are credible and safe to inform our beliefs and practices.