4 Simple Media Literacy Rules

I just heard the news: “The top 20 fake stories received more “shares, reactions, and comments” than the 20 top real news stories in the final months of the presidential campaign.”

It seems fake news is more appealing and, apparently, more believable than the real news.

This makes perfect sense. Fake news can be constructed to appeal to all the right narratives. Where-as real news exists as it is. It may only appeal to a very limited narrative.

If one assumes confirmation bias, selective perception, and motivated reasoning are the cognitive drivers of media consumption than anything that confirms our existing narratives will be much more attractive.

The irony is that:

“the coverage of American politics, and the capital that revolves around it, is in many ways much better now than ever before — faster, sharper, and far more sophisticated,” writes veteran newspaper reporter Susan B. Glasser. “There are great new digital news organizations for politics and policy obsessives, political science wonks, and national security geeks.”

So, what is the Answer?  The answer is to become “media literate.”  (The Center for Media Literacy is a great place to get more information on Media Literacy.)

Learning to be Media Literate is as important today – as it was to become reading and writing literate after the invention of the printing press.  

Here are four simple rules to be media literate:

1. Strive for a balanced media intake.

Just as you consume food, you also have to consume information to thrive today.

I prefer a balanced diet. Thus, I try to consume more than one article, post, video, or graphic on a topic of interest.

This is where Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can be very helpful.  Don’t skip over the information provided by friends and family.  Try to avoid a natural tendency to skip over things that may disagree with you.

2. Look for Transparency to the Source.

You have to understand the intent of the producer of the media product.  Recognize that the vast majority of media products exist to make money for somebody.

When you consume information the more you know about the source the better you will be able to value the information.  You need to learn as much as you can about every source you use.

One great place to start is to simply click on the “About Us” link a website’s homepage. Of course, recognize that is self-reported, so it likely is biased.  But, it is a good place to start.  I would also suggest simply searching for comments about the source to help you find the transparency you need to form a better assessment.

3. Try interacting with media actively and skeptically.

One of the huge advantages today is our ability to interact with the media.  In the old days, all we had were letters to the editor.

Today, we can post and comment about pretty much anything.  This interaction is critical to learn about the media, and at the same time learn about yourself.

Today we have the ability to question the sources directly.  This looks a lot like corroboration because it is a lot like corroboration.  Except we don’t have to be in the same room anymore.

4. Fact-check everything

It’s always a good idea to fact-check stories you find questionable. Among the most helpful resources: FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, Fact Checker, and Snopes. Don’t be distracted by people or websites — usually themselves partisan — that question the validity of such fact-check sites. You can do that yourself by looking for biased language within the fact-check site and by clicking on their supporting sources.