Media literacy

Media literacy: the cure for polarization

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Editor:

We all know Einstein’s definition of insanity. So, I suggest that we look at the challenge we are experiencing on the political scene from a new angle.

After the events of the past week caused by a small group of lost souls, and now that the new leadership has approved, it is time to begin the healing process. So let’s take Trump out of this conversation.

The remedy for the polarization between left and right will depend primarily on how our own human nature affects our ability to properly seek, analyze and share information (media literacy). The thought is that we will not resolve our differences by trying to convince the other side of our superior beliefs and strategies. We all have much more in common than what we disagree on. Our political challenges do not stem from the sickness of our system – they are symptoms of a deeper and more pressing problem. We are suffering from the “decline of truth”.

The situations and traits that we all suffer from are at the root of polarization: we have never experienced the avalanche of media that we try to cover these days. Combine that with the fact that this is largely wrong or wrong information, and not properly researched or written to follow the principles of professional journalism. In general, we have a hard time finding the truth. Not the Fox truth. Not the truth from CNN. Or the truth of social media – but the empirical truth. Agreement on the truth is the basis of trust. Reliable research shows that trust is on the decline. This insidious decline is serious because confidence is the basis of progress.

Two obstacles to discerning truth are: 1.) Our Confirmation Bias – Easily accept information that is consistent with our current beliefs and reject information that does not. There are reliable media sources. But too many publishers bow to specific segments of the political bell curve. These targeted viewers find a source they believe in. Then, too often, they feed exclusively on that source – continuing to reinforce their bias. 2.) Negativity Bias: When we have a choice to pay attention to good news or bad news, our conditioning over thousands of years causes us to focus on the bad. In the more violent world of the past, being hyper vigilant about what could hurt us was essential. However, data on the decrease in the number of victims of crime and war, combined with improvements in health care, poverty and the general amenities of modern life, shows that there is never had a safer and more comfortable time to be alive. Of course, there are problems. We will always have them. And humanity is good at finding the solutions.

Simply put, the solution to our political polarization is media literacy. When it comes to finding the truth, we must combat our vulnerability to untruths due to our prejudices. We must also remember that some media platforms profit from the unscrupulous exploitation of our biases. (When it bleeds there is a risk.)

Reminding ourselves of this helps us to remain vigilant in the face of certain media which attack our prejudices simply for the sake of profit. It’s the same whether it’s the algorithms that work behind the scenes of digital social media platforms or the 24-hour news stations that are intentionally biased.

Lack of media literacy is a pressing problem around the world. NATO has made it a strategic priority. Here in Livingston, our principal, Don Viegut, encourages and empowers faculty to incorporate media literacy into their classes. In addition, our Getting Better Foundation produced “Trust Me”, a documentary on the causes and solutions to media illiteracy. It was created at the US State Department. And 28,000 educators had access to the film and its study guide. It will be available to our community later this spring. Meanwhile, whether we lean left or right, let’s all focus on researching and analyzing the media we receive appropriately to build trust through the truth.

Joe phelps

Paradise Valley

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