I would confidently argue that media literacy is the most important topic of our time. Media impacts every aspect of our lives, specifically affecting the way we relate to, learn about, and interact with the people around us. Whether it be through social media, blogs, advertising, or the nightly news, all aspects of media cumulatively affect our perception of the world and what is happening within it. With such an incredible impact on our daily lives, the ability to navigate, verify, and trust information is vital for everyone.
The organization I work for, The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), is the umbrella group for media literacy education in the United States. To us, the issue is nonpartisan. It doesn’t matter what political party or belief system you follow; everyone is constantly exposed to media’s influence, which means we all must be expected to intelligently understand the messages around us.
Slowing Down in a Fast-Paced World
One of the first challenges media traversers encounter is keeping up with the speed of information. The rate at which our media is produced and distributed is both fascinating and overwhelming. Oftentimes, news outlets don’t have the luxury of time because of how fast they are expected to keep information flowing to their audience. They are often forced to sacrifice accuracy for speed. As the consumers, we must be willing to do our own verification, especially in a world where the term “fake news” is being used with abandon.
There is an art to patience. The good news is that it can be taught. Even just by emphasizing the importance of slowing down, stopping to verify a source, and backing it up with three other credible publications, educators can better equip their students with the basic skillset and understanding to intelligently digest media.
By doing so, and taking our time to understand the information we receive, we can start to break the bad habits of our rapid-fire media consumption and sharing.
Find the Sources
There was a time when the dots of information were clearly connected, with fewer go-betweens from the direct source to the media that was publishing it. Now everything is significantly more complicated. When it comes to online media, start by following the links. They’ll help take you back to the places where the information came from. If they lead to a personal social media account, you might want to consider your confidence in the information before sharing it.
For all media, backing up a source by comparing the information on several different media networks is always a good idea. Are there noticeable differences between the facts that are being shared? What bias is there? Using multiple reputable national news sources as a reference is always a good idea.
Personally, I never believe what I hear right way. It’s not a matter of being overly cynical but consciously skeptical. The key is to find the right balance for you. Taking the time to say, “Let’s see who else is saying this.” Backing up information is a great way to verify if information is true. Bottom line, if you don’t have time to verify it, you shouldn’t share it.
Keep an Open (but Questioning) Mind
The crux of the issue falls on our ability to determine if information is trustworthy. It means preparing ourselves and our students with the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate this information ecosystem. We should expect an understanding that simply because they see something online or in the news doesn’t always mean that information is 100% correct. The key is keeping an open and curious mind.
Media literacy encourages those critical thinking skills to ensure that our students are always asking questions about what they’re creating, consuming, and sharing. And that goes for all media and entertainment. We should always be asking questions and trying to understand more.
Michelle Ciulla Lipkin is the Executive Director for the National Association for Media Literacy Education. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.