By Emma Cline
If ‘literate’ is the ability to read and write, then ‘media literate’ is the ability to read and write media. It seems simple enough on the surface. But think about how many classes you had to take in grade school that forced you to look at the deeper meaning of the things you were reading and writing. There were entire classes devoted to various genres, authors, symbols, themes, etc. How many classes did you take on the deeper meanings of various facets in media? If you’re like most of us, you were lucky to get one class on it. Most students get a week dedicated to how to find a reliable source in their library’s database—if that. With the upcoming election, and the inevitable outpouring of media to follow, it’s time to brush up on our media literacy.
Being media literate means being able to look beyond the surface level. Just like in your old English classes, you’ve got to dig deep. Do not be a complacent consumer. You must be a critical consumer. If you aren’t critical, it’s easy to be taken advantage of by internet trolls who prey on the very people they know will take their memes and blog posts at face value. So, how do you become a media literate and critical consumer? You must ask questions and pursue their answers. The following three questions are a good place to start:
1) Who made this?
Whether it’s a shared post on Facebook, or a journalistic piece published by CNN, it’s important to know the publisher/author. CNN, for example, is typically acknowledged as a left-leaning news publication, while Fox News is typically right-leaning. Take that into consideration when consuming their media.
2) What is their motive?
A girl you graduated high school with makes a social media post about how awesome the shampoo she’s selling is. It makes her hair grow so much faster and healthier! And, if you swipe up, you can buy it here! Of course, she is going to say how awesome it is, because she gets paid to sell it. If you wanted to find out if the shampoo is really that awesome, do some digging around on your own to find out. Don’t just take a biased sales pitch on it.
When it comes to acknowledging motive, be wary of loaded language. According to definitions.net, loaded language is any words and/or phrases that carry a strong emotive connotation for the audience. This means the author(s) may intentionally be trying to evoke a specific reaction from their audience. Therefore, their motive is less about informing, and more about persuading. This can be a sign of misinformation.
3) What makes this credible?
Sources are important when looking at media. Who are they? Why are they being cited as a source? Do they have the authority to speak on the subject? If a news article cites a medical doctor in a piece on flu vaccinations, that’s most likely a credible source. Doctors study medicine, and therefore, are a credible source on medical issues. Say that same doctor was cited in a piece on astronomy. Does he have any credibility in astronomy? Probably not. You would want information about astronomy from a credible astronomer.
Look at the writing style, as well as the overall website or platform. Are there grammatical errors? Does the website look professionally done, or does it seem as though it was thrown together without care? Who was the publisher, and are they a reliable source? Cheaply made websites with an abundance of grammatical errors and untraceable publishers are often a sign of unreliable information. Look for websites or platforms that look professional, are by reputable publishers and are free of grammatical errors. These sources are typically more reliable.
Always remember that if you aren’t sure about information you see on the internet, look up another source. Cross reference information against various sources and outlets. Question, question, question.
It’s an election year, and the bombardment of news, tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram lives, and the like are only going to intensify as we approach and move past election day. Make sure you are asking these questions, and more, of the media you’re consuming. Consume from multiple outlets, be critical, and pursue honest answers.