Media literacy is increasingly necessary to political awareness. In light of the recent election, many of us saw Facebook friends sharing articles and quoting them as news when in fact they were blogs, biased sources or straight-up false information. Maybe we shared a few false memes on our own. Fake news has even become profitable, like with the case of teens in a small town in Macedonia who created 100+ pro-Trump websites. During the final weeks of the election, fake news shared on Facebook even outnumbered real news.
What does this say about us as Americans? That we need to be smarter about the information we consume as truth to become more informed citizens. In my Intro to Mass Communications class this pass semester, we focused on media literacy and my professor posed the following questions to consider.
1. What kind of content are you encountering?
Read in between the lines of the information for a possible slant or bias. But also look at the date that the article was published, the author(s), the organization and its ties.
2. Is the information complete? If not, what is it missing?
If you're a little skeptical, don't brush that feeling aside. Find out the whole story and all of its angles.
3. Who/what are the sources and why should you believe them?
Check out Snopes' guide to click-bait fake news sites. Buzzfeed published an interesting analysis of hyperpartisan Facebook pages, such as Occupy Democrats and Right Wing News, in comparison to mainstream news sources like CNN and the type of information they each produce. Do research and retain your findings.
4. What evidence is presented and how was it tested or vetted?
If the article is truly journalistic, then this question will be easy to answer.
5. What might be an alternative explanation or understanding?
If the conclusions of an article are one-sided, consider the opposite perspective or other explanations and find other perspectives on the issue.
6. Are you learned what you need to?
A bigger question is are you learning anything at all? If what you're reading only reconfirms your pre-existing beliefs, then the answer is probably no. Challenge yourself and your beliefs. Prioritize sources that are information-rich, not opinion-based (NPR is a good place to start).