As I collaborate with an excellent executive board for the upcoming 2018 Northeast Regional Media Literacy Conference, I can’t help but to engage in conversations around the important issue of fake news in today’s world. We’ve heard that fake news has been around for generations as a way to persuade citizens to believe and act in particular ways that support political agendas. I prefer to call this “disinformation,” and media literacy advocates and practitioners may never had a more powerful role in society than to help people who are admittedly confused about media messages to learn how to assess disinformation personally and practically.
Disinformation is sometimes considered part of a spectrum, with misinformation to the left and propaganda to the right. Regardless of degree, citizens’ ability to form evidence-based assessments of important social-based issues may be diluted through constant repetition of opinions that are presented as facts. Many of us are quite concerned about the vulnerability of democratic societies to disinformation and the normative effect disinformation may have on people everywhere.
Moreover, because social media platforms are a primary medium through which young people develop their political identities, disinformation distributed online with the intention of misleading voters or simply earning a profit has serious consequences for the future of informed citizenries everywhere. Young people absolutely need tools to help them navigate social media and to help them to assess what they hear and see around them as they’re growing up.
What can media literacy advocates and practitioners do to help others to be discerning consumers of media messages? Media literacy advocates and practitioners can…
- Promote political news and information from reputable outlets;
- Explicitly define elements of our global “post-truth” era, in which organizations provoke certain feelings, sensations, or reactions for a particular and sometimes disingenuous motive;
- Unpack how persuasive techniques like celebrity impersonation, polarization, conspiracy theories, and trolling are used to mislead people;
- Empower consumers to know when to trust content and at what point to be confident to share with others on social media platforms;
- Bring together conservatives and progressives with the common goal to discuss disinformation in politics;
- Develop multidisciplinary community-wide shared resources for investigating the presence and dissemination of media disinformation;
- Provide opportunities for individuals to create or analyze their own “fake news,” a process which demystifies media messaging (like this free Dutch online game or a crowdsourced online site like Mind over Media);
- Expose how social media tools amplify certain hashtags or messages to influence what’s trending, called computational propaganda;
- Advocate for social media firms to design for democracy; and — most importantly —
- Encourage people to vote.
It is imperative that media literacy advocates and practitioners help citizens to apply a critical eye to the information they consume. No, there’s no absolute solution to our current climate of disinformation. But we can increase social resistance against fake news as one step toward that goal.
If you’d like more information about offering a presentation at the 2018 Northeast Regional Media Literacy Conference, check out this Call for Presenters.