Last week I spent a day learning about strategies for deconstructing media messages and effectively sharing the facts rather than “confirming" the myths that seem rampant in our news feeds. The Friends Council in Philadelphia held a day-long conference entitled “Media and Information Literacy in an Era of Fake News”. Our morning was spent with Sherri Hope Culver, professor at Temple University. In the afternoon we heard from the American Friends Service Committee who have defined steps for us to follow as we share news. Here are my takeaways for teachers and parents:
Media Literacy has become an increasingly important skill, but it is rarely taught. It is not enough to only teach students to evaluate webpages since media messages go far beyond the web - they are found all around us in malls, on the street, in social media, TV and TV apps, and all manner of print materials including product labels in our own homes. A marketing firm boasts that most Americans are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day. Now we can add the flood of news stories, some real, some invented that we must also sort through on a daily basis. How can we make sense of this information avalanche?
"Media literacy education helps individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today's world" - Sherri Hope Culver
Sherri Hope Culver shared the five key questions for evaluating media. These are important for each of us to teach and practice:
Author - Who created this message?
- Who made this and why?
- Is it serious or humorous? Was this a student project?
- Can you validate the source?
Format - Deconstructing images and messages
- What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
- Why do you like it?
- How did they set up this image? What is it missing?
- What do you think the intention is behind the message?
- How might different people understand this message differently?
- What does this image mean to you? What might it mean to someone else?
- Who is paying for this? Who are they relying on to get this message and why?
- Observe what attracts you to one particular store or restaurant- is it the lighting? design? layout? theme? ethnicity?
- Evaluate your choices online. What attracts you? What compels you to go certain websites?
Content - What values, attitudes, and points of view are represented or omitted from this message?
- Why did the authors choose these images?
- Does a celebrity in an ad actually endorse or use that product? Why or why not?
- Who’s not there?
- Who was left out of this message?
Purpose - What is the purpose of this message?
- Why does this site or message exist?
- What is its history?
- Who is being targeted in this message?
- Who is benefiting from this message?
When in doubt, ask: Why?
Other elements of messages we should check include:
- Currency - check the date of publication before you pass around old news
- Set up norms to address questions about current events:
- What we know
- What we don’t know
- What we would like to know
- Separate the person from the words they use. How do the words you choose change things?
The American Friends Service Committee has a blog entitled Media Uncovered. They shared recommendations for managing and identifying fake news:
Do- Fact check news
- Read beyond headlines
- Support journalists and stories that call out fake news
Don’t "Myth-bust" - reframe the story to effectively share facts
- In a study on how people hear myths and untruths, activists found that mainstream media audiences hear the initial myths, then the activist, trying to share the facts, first repeats the myth. Their audience now hears the myth “confirmed” rather than listening to the actual fact that follows.
- So DON’T restate the myth, skip the repetition of the myth - go straight to the reframing of the facts.
Clicks and retweets - sharing news well done and paying for it DOES add up in aggregate -
- DO share and retweet - (after you have checked to make sure it’s factual) Clicking on a story supports the writers doing good work.
- It’s easy to be fooled: clickbaiting is real - know your sources.