Editorial: Becoming media literate

Photo Editor Heather Davidson on what it means to be Media Literate

There is more than one side to every story. We are all taught this in elementary school when learning about empathy and respecting others.
However it seems that since then, a lot of us have forgotten this lesson.

Our involvement with social media means that more people than ever have daily access to some form of news, be it world issues or celebrity gossip. With this much information at our disposal, it is crucial that we are careful to sift through it and find the most important points.

Every day I see people posting links to articles making wild the news without actually taking time to read what they are sharing. I have seen this most recently with the cases of Ebola that were discovered in North America.

When the first man was diagnosed in Dallas, many people on my Facebook newsfeed shared the same article from Buzzfeed, claiming they did not want to leave their houses or that Canada should close its borders to any incoming travellers.

It is these kinds of rash conclusions that lead to widespread inaccuracies. Just like the schoolyard rumours that taught us to always look at things from others’ perspectives, people’s one-sided opinions can quickly be taken as facts.

This is why we need to make sure we are aware of where we are getting our information from, and look at more than one source’s perspective before trying to share information with others. It is easy to look at popular media and absorb everything you see.

We have a tendency as social beings to follow what others do. It is often hard to distinguish blatantly problematic messages from those that are more implicit.

For example, while you no longer see the types of blatant sexism that was allowed in advertisements in the mid-20th century, the media is still full of subtle hints of this nature.

From gender-typed children’s toys and Halloween costumes to beer commercials, advertisers have a way of gently reminding us that men and women are expected to act a certain way. These things often seem so innocent that they often go unnoticed, but it is examples like these that perpetuate stereotypes. They are indirect enough that people don’t think to question them and instead just accept them.

This is more dangerous than overtly ill-natured messages because it’s often so difficult to decide where to draw the line.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t trust the media. In working for a newspaper, I hear a lot of people who do not trust popular news sources, saying that they intentionally look to scandalize people and issues rather than objectively relay events to a wide audience.

This is also, I believe, not an appropriate approach to take. What I am saying is that we need to be critical of what we are seeing and hearing and make informed decisions about the information that we choose to accept and share with others.

Controversy and disagreement should be encouraged if it means people are actually taking the time to research and form an opinion on a topic.

News media has a responsibility to ensure they are providing the public with factual, unbiased information.

At the same time, we as consumers need to understand that many sources are biased in some way.

Advertising agencies are ultimately aiming to make a profit and will present their information in a way that will help them do so, even if that information is exaggerated or portrays negative ideals.

Major news publications, no matter how objective they try to be, are ultimately created from the perspective of a few people from a certain context, and should be taken in with this in mind.

There needs to be a balance between believing and promoting everything that we read, and rejecting all media as untrustworthy.

The Internet, particularly social media, allows us to spread knowledge faster than ever, and this can be extremely beneficial.

But this means that now more than ever we need to be conscientious when learning new information and look at multiple sides to every story, just like we were taught as kids.

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