Media Literacy Part Three: Responding to Disinformation

This is part three of our four-part series on media literacy. The skills necessary for media literacy consist of four major components: an awareness of your media environment, an ability to filter out harmful messages, a solid coping mechanism for disinformation and unverified news, and a responsibility to others in your community. These four skillsets of media literacy make us better consumers and producers of media, which allows us to better understand and combat disinformation campaigns and more effectively communicate with others. This section describes response mechanisms to bad information.

In part two of our series, we discussed methods of filtering out harmful messages or disinformation. But what happens when these messages inevitably break through our filters? And what skills should we develop to be able to cope with malign information?

The first set of skills comes from analyzing the content itself. Follow a checklist to see if the information that you’ve come across seems like reliable information:

  • Is the content promoting factual statements or opinionated statements?
    • This is a difficult question for many Americans. According to a Pew survey of 5,035 Americans, when faced with five factual statements, only 26% of Americans can identify all five as facts not opinions. Remember that factual statements can be proven or disproven by objective evidence, whereas an opinionated statement is based on a belief or value set and cannot be proven.
  • Is the content intentionally presented in a way to make me feel an emotion?
    • As we’ve discussed, “shock and awe” is a tactic that creators of disinformation use to manipulate the reader. If certain content is presented in a way that makes you angry, upset, or scared, it’s probably not wholly true.
  • Is the content promoted in a way that seems false or low quality?
    • If you’re not sure, check out part 2 for some tips on identifying disinformation!

The second set of skills has to do with the creation of the content. Answering the question “where is this from?” is very important for deciding whether to trust new information or not.

  • Who wrote the content?
    • This gets back to part one, where we discussed the difference between a journalist, an influencer, and a television personality. If you follow the steps in part one, you’ll be able to identify if the author or creator of the content is trustworthy or not.
  • Does the outlet or the individual promoting this content have an alternative agenda?
    • If you’re on social media and someone is promoting content that you feel may be false, check their profile. If they don’t seem to be qualified to be discussing this content, then it’s probably not trustworthy.

The last set of skills is the most important part of responding to false information. Once you’ve identified that information is false or untrustworthy, what do you do now?

  • You can fact-check and figure out what is true. Using reliable sources or fact-checking websites to track down false information and determine what really happened is a helpful way to stay knowledgeable about the news. Additionally, rather than throwing up your hands and saying “I don’t know,” you’re now able to educate yourself or others about a topic because you’ve learned the facts.
  • Consider before you share information. If you’re still not sure if a source is credible or the information is reliable, you probably should not share that information with others or online. Promoting content that is questionably accurate continues a dangerous cycle of disinformation.

All of these steps contribute to the pinnacle of media literacy: critical thinking. By thinking critically about new information in the media environment around you, you’ll be able to be a more informed citizen and more literate about the world around you. Plus, critical thinking is a deeply important skill for every component of your life, not just the media environment. In sum, by analyzing media once it’s gotten through your filter, you can develop key critical thinking skills to help in your journey towards media literacy.

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