Truth, fiction and media literacy

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

By Belinha De Abreu, Ph.D. / Media Literacy Educator /  Sacred Heart University

Critical thinking, critical discourse and — frankly — critical understanding of our media-laden world are essential, universal skills. Today, people question the certainty of information. Truth appears to be unclear. It has even become the new norm to debate what the word “truth” actually means. The last is especially disturbing because it offsets the balance of what we believe about our world and society. This balance has been threatened even further by media giants who may not consider the consequences of their actions. As Eli Pariser notes in his book The Filter Bubble,

Consuming information that conforms to our ideas of the world is easy and pleasurable; consuming information that challenges us to think in new ways or question our assumptions is frustrating and difficult (p. 88).

Media literacy education addresses the question of how civil society can be a part of the larger dialogue of exposing new thinking and misinformation while also promoting an open dialogue. As has been my experience over the past several years, researchers have been studying this very point, and the trail of scholarship has increased substantially. The entry point of inquiry within this work is vitally important, especially as it has reached national and international attention, resonating with the political strife throughout various countries.

The reality is that media, while expanding in the form of technology, has diminished people’s ideas and perceptions. This discussion has put a spotlight on how news organizations manage or mismanage information presented to the viewer. As David E. McGraw notes in his book Truth in Our Times, power news organizations undoubtedly shape public opinion, but the situation is complicated:

We all bring our own filters to what we read, and we form our own opinions about what we read based on — pick as many as you want — our existing bias, our station in life, how critically we read a particular story, what we’re hearing from those around us, and what we’re reading elsewhere in a media environment that is saturated with alternative news sources (p. 85).

As such, it is important that we consider WHAT we are receiving from the media and critically THINK about it in a way that allows for us to process the information, check it through a variety of sources (even ones we don’t agree with), and then determine validity. Unfortunately, relying on a news source alone no longer is enough. Too much has already transpired in the world where the news has put people on guard and in many ways created even more problems than solutions — especially because most of the general public is willing to retweet or share unverified information.

The way in which technology and people interact has played significantly into how problems have arisen with misinformation. Observing people while traveling — whether on a train, an airplane or other means — has been an eye-opening experience, demonstrating how socially disengaged our society has become. Watching people scroll through their phones, reading news alerts, playing with apps, writing emails and viewing television programs or movies says a lot about our shifting society. Technology has created an internal struggle between distraction from real world events and the accurate perception of what is happening in front of us.

Media literacy education is a global and international focus. As media technologies continue to expand in scope and reach, with little regard for physical or cultural borders, how we educate students about the role of media in their daily lives increasingly incorporates more global perspectives. On a global scale, our world has been tipped upside down by the amount of information that is manipulated daily. Digital companies have been put in the position of figuring out the difference between censorship and hate speech. Further, these companies are on a public trial in many cases for allowing the misdirection of information to become common. This issue is still in development around the world, and we should expect to see more news regarding these companies forthcoming.

The global perspective, given the accessibility of the world via social networks and the internet, is much needed for our students and educators. Thus, an essential and necessary relationship exists among the new digital technologies, global awareness and media literacy — thus delineating truth from fiction.

References:

  • Pariser, E. (2011). The Filter Bubble: How the new personalized web is changing what we read and how we think. NY: Penguin Books.
  • McGraw, D.E. (2019). Truth in Our Times: Inside the Fight for Press Freedom in the Age of Alternative Facts. NY: All Points Books.

Dr. Belinha De Abreu, is an International Media Literacy Educator in the United States working both in K-12 education and at the collegiate level. Her research interests include media and information literacy education, educational technology, global perspectives, critical thinking, privacy & big data, digital citizenship, and teacher training. She is the author/editor of severalpapers/books including: Teaching Media Literacy (ALA: Neal Schumann, 2019), Mobile Learning through Digital Media Literacy (Peter Lang, 2017), The International Handbook for Media Literacy Education (Routledge, 2017), and Global Media Literacy in a Digital Age (Peter Lang, 2016). She serves as the Vice President for the National Telemedia Council (NTC), and is the founder of the International Media Literacy Research Symposium. Follow Belinha on Twitter at @belmedia.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.