Tips on Media Literacy

When I scroll through my news feed on Facebook, I see posts from friends about their families, pets, school activities and many times local and world news.

Most of the time, the stories are legitimate and come from sources such as CNN, BBC, ABC or the countless other media sources worldwide. The headlines are catchy and draw my attention because, after all, the whole point of writing a story is to get people to read it. The struggle comes when I see outlandish headlines going viral when there is likely little to no truth behind the story that goes with it.

The beauty of the Internet is that anyone can share just about anything any time of the day. Have a cute video of a dog failing to catch a ball? Post it in seconds. Have a great recipe for pasta salad? Share it with your friends. Unfortunately, this also means that someone looking for attention or starting rumors can easily add that information to the mix.

Being able to distinguish between what is true and what may not be in media is often called media literacy. That basically means that a person understands that when The New York Times shares a story, more often than not, it has been fact-checked numerous times, read by multiple editors and gone through with a fine-toothed comb to make sure everything in the article is accurate while a story shared by “The Revolution” or “Daily Drama,” both of which I’ve seen friends share stories from, are not as carefully checked. It is possible for stories from these sources to be entirely accurate, but many times they stretch or exaggerate the truth for social media shares.

The easiest way to keep from sharing stories that may or may not be true is to check the source that originally posted the material. If it’s from a reputable news source, you can likely trust what they are sharing. If you don’t recognize the source or it comes from something that sounds opinionated, then you may want to see if you can find the information somewhere else. If you can, great! It’s likely a legit story and is great for sharing to make sure your friends are aware of what is going on in the world. Can’t find it somewhere else? It’s probably best not to share it.

I’m all for using social media to distribute information about what is going on in the community or around the world. I found out about the attacks in Paris through Twitter and about the shooting in Charleston through Facebook. But being aware that not everything we read on the Internet is true is vital to understanding what we are reading. Sharing stories that aren’t true can contribute to racism, sexism, religious intolerance or violence without the sharer even realizing that what they read didn’t really happen.

So in the future, just be aware of what you’re sharing and the impact it may have on the world around you. Check your sources and spread the truth. The world already has enough hate and lies without innocent people sharing things they thought were true.