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Kentucky Kernel

The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

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Read responsibly: Media literacy in a digital world

Illustration by Akhila Nadimpalli

Living in a digital age, we consume a lot of media content.

Every day, I am bombarded by a slew of Instagram stories, TikToks and messages telling me how to think, which side to support in a conflict or businesses to support or boycott.

Though these posts can be helpful in bringing awareness to important events and causes, it is becoming ever more important to understand how reliable the information presented in social media discourse actually is.

Media literacy, as defined by the National Association for Media Literacy Education, is the ability to “access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication.”

It is the cornerstone of critical thinking needed when consuming content on all platforms, yet it is quickly falling to the wayside as the media cycle turns faster and constantly changes.

This can be seen with a whole host of modern problems — from vaccines to climate change to political events. Talk show hosts, podcasters and social media groups have worked rapidly to express their opinions all while refuting established, credible facts, diluting or cherry-picking evidence, and completely making up information altogether.

Although much of this misinformation or disinformation seems like it only exists in a virtual echo chamber, it has serious implications for things like political systems and even people’s lives.

Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. Online rhetoric and comments from U.S. politicians resulted in a 77% increase in violence against Asian Americans, who were blamed for the spread of the virus.

The validity of school shootings have also faced media scrutiny, as can be seen with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

In 2022, Jones was sued by family members of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting after claiming that the event was propagated by left-wing, anti-gun activists, going as far as to say that these families “made up” their children who died. As a result of these claims, Jones’ listeners harassed and threatened the victims’ families.

Though these are both extreme examples, it goes to show that people are impressionable and responsive to the media to which they are exposed. And as people grow more reliant on technology for news and other information, it should be our top priority to ensure everyone is equipped with a skill set for discerning factual sources from false ones.

The best way to do this is to get information from reputable and unbiased news sources, such as the Associated Press, NPR, BBC and The New York Times to name a few (and the Kentucky Kernel, of course). However, it’s unrealistic to only view content from these outlets.

For information posted on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, it’s important to evaluate if there are sources to back up claims.

Examining accounts that post information that seems biased or targeted can help viewers get a better sense of who the poster is and why they are posting.

Video platforms like TikTok can be more tricky, but generally, understanding the views creators have when speaking about important or relevant issues is necessary for getting a gist of their argument.

This way, listeners and viewers can better grasp what facts they are likely purposefully including and omitting. Occupational and educational backgrounds should also be considered in making judgements.

It can be easy to get swept up in the media frenzy and blindly accept the information given by sources with which we interact. But, in the contentious world we live in, we cannot resign to laziness or rely on word-of-mouth accounts of events from people in the digital sphere.

Widespread education on the most responsible ways to interpret and consume media is the only way the general public can become more informed about the world around us to help inspire change.

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