Literacy has always been synonymous with reading and writing, but in the last decade or so, literacy has shifted with the digital age, bringing media literacy to the forefront of education.
“Media literacy is an umbrella term encompassing a variety of approaches that: build an understanding of how media messages shape our culture and society, develop critical thinking skills around all types of media, and give people the tools to advocate for a changed media system.”
In layman's terms, it’s how we come to decode and understand the messages in the media, beyond just mindless consumption.
Media, whether in the form of film, TV, music, pop culture, or the daily or weekly news cycle, influences everything we do, and shapes society as a whole.
Advances in technology have made it possible for anyone to create anything, and have it reach the masses in a matter of seconds. Today, people are consuming information quicker and in greater quantities than ever before.
Unfortunately, this presents a catch-22: as the amount of consumed information increases, there is a decline in the attention span, and subsequent retention of said information.
This leads to the spread of false information via catchy headlines and click-bait articles because media outlets thrive on user interaction.
There is endless competition for the consumer’s attention, and the number of hits pays the bills, so accuracy is no longer the priority. For the reader, quick response and reactions are also a reflection of the way media is presented, meaning people may respond or react to a headline before taking time to fully read or understand an article or grasp the full details of a news event.
But how can accuracy hold any weight in a world where the line between fact and opinion is blurred? Alternative facts and fake news have become acceptable distractions from the truth.
The responsibility then falls on the consumer to think critically and self-investigate while navigating this new media landscape.
Poe’s Law is a new phenomenon that states “on the internet, it's impossible to tell who is joking” which is a very dangerous precedent as the internet has, and continues to, take over traditional media as the consumers’ first choice for information.
Websites like 4chan and The Onion have popularized the use of irony and satire to negate the other side’s point of view, and I don’t think the chaos created is worth the LOLs.
Their popularity has created an epidemic of mistrust and furthered the ‘don’t believe anything you read on the internet’ rhetoric.
It is impossible to think critically about what you’re reading when you can’t trust what you’re reading. This mistrust has led to the polarization of our society, where it seems impossible to find middle ground on any issue.
Critical thinking requires a deep understanding of the topic at hand as a whole, which can only occur if you’re open to seeing and hearing the other side.
However, the current media system does not create the space for such discussions to take place respectfully, because taking a stance, especially if they are polarizing is the popular path.
There needs to be a shift in how we think about consuming information as a society. Critical thinking needs to be part of the curriculum from the very beginning, and media literacy programs should be government mandated, so that accuracy can come before personal agendas.
It needs to be practiced extensively in order to become second nature. The impact of polarization in the last decade due to misinformation and social media algorithms can be felt globally; and it can only be combated with credibility and each consumer’s accountability to think independently.
Media literacy is a very extensive topic, and this is just one specific approach, however, here is a great place to start thinking about how media literacy personally affects you daily.