We have an ever-accelerating journalism cycle that is making mistakes, shortening our attention spans, presenting opinion as news, and trivializing our political debates. We are learning that even though we have an unimaginable wealth of information at our fingertips, our trust can be easily misplaced.
How do we fix the problem? Ideally we would see a transformation of news media towards verifiability and quality, addressing all of the above issues. Hopefully we will see a transition towards more transparency regarding sources and certainty in the media. If it is made clear that a story is being investigated, preliminary reports should not have as great of a deleterious effect when they turn out to be wrong. We also have to end the mislabeling of opinion and hype as news. However, even if all of this does come about, it will likely be too slow to avoid the damage this system is continually inflicting on us today. We need to empower ourselves as individuals so that we can function well in spite of today’s broken news media system.
Media literacy is an understanding of the process and the intent of media forms, as well as how they affect us. One of my professors once said that if you don’t understand exactly how advertising is manipulating you, then you are being manipulated.
Children and teenagers today are more adept with new media technologies than most adults. The uptake of these faster media forms by the young is helping drive the technological wave that is reshaping our information systems.
The key is that we must ensure that both adults and the young develop media literacy. It is true that the older generations show less competence with these new high-speed technologies, but it is also true that adults have more experience in ascertaining the truth and biases of a media item. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves on these issues, and to transform our schools so that they can help our children find their way through this storm.
Jeff Share, a faculty member at UCLA and an avid researcher of media literacy, has a lot of ideas that I think are incredibly useful. The overriding idea I took away from his work is that all pieces of media are deliberately constructed. Someone made choices in the development of every piece of every form of media. The intent and biases of the creator are imbued into the work that they create. On a side note, Vision of Earth is a form of media. If you want to read about our personal history to get some idea of our biases, you can find some of it on our Who are we? page.
As to how we educate the young on this subject, Dr. Share recommends that we teach them by having them create their own media. For instance, students can be encouraged to write a blog of their own as part of a media project. Share says that participating in the creation of media is an excellent way to understand the inherent constructed nature of all media.
Canada has been educating children in media literacy for decades. One of the reasons for this is because Canadians wish to keep their identity and culture distinct from the United States. Conversely, the United States does not have this incentive because they are the dominant media creators of the world.
Media literacy is composed of a set of tools. They must be actively used and developed in order to increase your chances that the media you consume is not indoctrinating you. Determining the intent of the media’s creator is only part of the struggle. Critical thinking is still necessary for free yourself from buying into propaganda.
Critical thinking will allow you to strain the useful knowledge from even low-quality media. There may be relevant facts that you can pick out and go research at a more reputable source. There may be arguments that you can see are designed to hide a critical flaw in a position. There are a whole host of logical fallacies that are an excellent study topic if you want to be able to critically examine sources of information and arguments.
Conversely, this same knowledge can be used to deliberately mislead and confuse people. It is our experience that there are some people who deliberately misinform others. However, I believe that most media creators do not set out with an express desire to misinform. If a person is promoting/repeating a falsehood, it is generally not because they are deliberately misinforming people, but because they failed to look deeply enough into the issues they are dealing with and have been misinformed themselves. I say this, despite being aware of many deliberate forms of misinformation in the world, such as how the concept of climate change is being fought by carbon intensive industries. The truth is, people make mistakes, this is a human fact that is impossible to avoid. Well wishing creators of media are trumpeting falsehoods, many of them unknowingly.
What is our attempt to fix this?
What can we do about this? Vision of Earth’s answer is some degree of peer-review for those articles that we have created and edited collaboratively. You can find these articles on our home page below the slideshow with little thumbnail pictures. For these articles we attempt to provide verifiable facts. We try to show citations for the claims that we believe require support. When drawing directly upon our experience we make efforts to make it clear that we are doing so. Thanks to our technical backgrounds and experience, we can act as primary sources for some of what we write. This reduces the number of citations we need to put into our documents.
We often work together, scrutinizing each other’s work with a careful eye. Once you have adopted a critical “prove-it-to-me” attitude, you start to see all the gaps in the arguments that you used to think were bulletproof. With Vision of Earth we took the time to build up our knowledge on technical subjects such as Energy, Ending Poverty, Living Green, Economics, and more recently Media Studies. We can work with some confidence in these areas because we have dedicated many hours to laying out the factual groundwork.
We invite criticism of our work. We are primarily interested in learning the truth of these matters as best we can. Our efforts to inform the world are based on our efforts to acquire correct information. We pride ourselves on continuous refinement of our work and our own knowledge. We attempt to be very open to new ideas and perspectives. If you see something on this site that you disagree with, please contact us or post a comment.