In our opinion: all I want for Christmas is better media literacy
It is the season of hope, faith and joy. So, like everyone else, the Columbian Editorial Board is compiling a wish list.
Of course, we will ask Santa for conscientious elected officials, free and fair elections, and a new bridge. (Doesn’t everyone have these items on their list?) More importantly, we hope for better media literacy from residents of Clark County and beyond.
It is not something that can be placed under the tree and opened on Christmas morning. It will take diligence and determination on the part of our neighbors, and it will require behavior change on the part of many.
Whether it’s COVID-19 vaccines, the presidential election, or climate change, misinformation is pervasive in American society, and far too many people are unable or unwilling to separate truth from fiction. The reasons are easy to see; a January Pew Research study found that 86% of American adults get their news from a smartphone. Much of it comes from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, where misinformation is swallowed up like pumpkin pie with lots of whipped cream on top.
Recent revelations of the inner workings of Facebook have demonstrated the flaws. Starting in 2017, the platform’s algorithm prioritized posts that requested “angry” emojis over those that were “liked”. The result was that emotional and provocative content was more likely to show up on your Facebook feed.
As the Washington Post explained in October: “Company data scientists confirmed in 2019 that posts that triggered emoji angry reactions were disproportionately likely to include misinformation, toxicity and shoddy news.
“Shoddy news” is an understatement. In the last two presidential elections, stories from non-existent newspapers have been shared millions of times on Facebook. If you believed or shared “news” from the Denver Guardian or the Baltimore Gazette, you have been duped; they don’t exist except in the form of someone sitting in a basement making up stories.
The result is a society in which lies about elections or vaccines spread relentlessly. The result is a society in which truthfulness – the quality of appearing or being felt to be true – carries more weight than truth. We have seen the consequences of this alternate reality, with thousands of people believing enough lies to attempt to overthrow the United States government.
A new Commission on Information Disorders, sponsored by the Aspen Institute, has called for “new regulations on social media platforms, tougher and more consistent rules for ‘super-broadcasters’ of disinformation who amplify misinformation. harmful falsehoods and new investments in authoritative journalism and organizations that teach critical thinking and media literacy, ”according to the Associated Press.
Regulating the media is delicate and dangerous. The market for ideas relies on an informed public, but able to discern the truth.
In this sense, several states have considered legislation to improve media literacy. In Washington, a bill introduced this year (Senate Bill 5242) to support “media literacy and digital citizenship” failed to get off committee.
While lawmakers must heed the ramifications of this nation’s information disorder, the real solution lies with us. More discriminating media consumption, starting by simply asking, “Is this story from a reliable source?” Is the first step in giving a Merry Christmas to those who care about the truth.