The Urgent Need for Media Literacy in the Age of Annihilation
From fictional organizations posting polarizing Facebook posts to thoroughly researched news articles labeled “fake,” the pervasive power and importance of the media is clear.
And yet, what is of most concern is not that fictional stories are being shared as “true” and that well-documented stories are labeled “fake”. On the contrary, the biggest problem is the lack of stories on how to approach the situation in a thoughtful way, not only through media regulation, but also through education.
By focusing on media challenges one by one as they arise, one misses an opportunity to approach the messages and the power of the media in a systemic way. Instead, in something akin to a “Whack-a-mole” game, issues with social media are treated as isolated issues that keep popping up. Facebook is becoming a must-see destination for those who wish to overturn an election? Tell stories that blame Mark Zuckerberg. Twitter becomes a platform of lies? Tell stories that appeal to Donald Trump.
But what the media doesn’t show us and say about the world – and those we share it with – is just as important as what the media shows and tells. In my article “Create iPhone Dreams, Kill E-Waste Nightmares,” I find media coverage on cellphones to be strong, but media coverage on e-waste is almost nonexistent. Communication theorists have a name for what happens to stories that aren’t told: symbolic annihilation. This means that it is even impossible to imagine nonexistent stories as realities. But how can our society, collectively, think differently not only about the challenges of social media, but about all media messages? Media literacy is the solution.
Frame the world
In the 21st century, a story can come in a myriad of forms – a news article can appear in a print newspaper, on a laptop, or on a phone – but stories are always the product of what cultural theorists call framing.
Communications scholar Todd Gitlin leans on sociologist Erving Goffman, the founder of framing theory, when he writes in his book The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Defeat of the New Left:
“Media frameworks are persistent models of cognition, interpretation and presentation, selection, emphasis and exclusion. “
Goffman says all media content is the result of choices about which stories to tell, in what ways, and with what details – and which stories to ignore.
Stories can be designed to include rigorous research and a nuanced approach to share thoughtful and diverse perspectives. Stories can also be framed without research and offer a narrow and limited perspective. Corn all stories involve realities about the authority behind the story and about the listener, reader and beholder.
Role of the media
For decades, we’ve been concerned about how the media frames the world for us. One of the most compelling articulations of this concern is found in Neil Postman’s 1985 book Have fun to die for.
Postman’s thesis was that the media frames all content as entertainment and “when a population is distracted by anecdotes, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual cycle of entertainment, when serious public conversation becomes a form of gossip , when, in short, a people becomes a public, and its public affairs an act of vaudeville, then a nation is in danger…. ”
His recommendation? Media Literacy – the ability to think critically about the creation, sources, content and consequences of all media messages.
Unfortunately, while it is common today to see stories about privacy breaches, allegations of counterfeiting or hate-spitting trolls, there are few stories about media literacy.
Rarely Discussed: Media Literacy
According to the Canadian Newsstand database, which searches over 20 of Canada’s largest newspapers, in the first five months of 2019, newspapers shared just over 21,000 articles that dealt with “Twitter,” 4,200 articles of newspapers that talked about “Facebook” and 355 articles that discussed “fake news”. The number of Canadian newspaper articles in the past five months that included “media literacy? ” Fifteen.
The international situation is similar. According to the Lexis Nexis Major World Newspapers database, which searches the world’s largest newspapers, in the first five months of 2019 there were over 8,600 newspaper headlines that included “Twitter,” nearly 4,000 headlines. of newspapers with “Facebook” and 500 newspaper titles which included “fake news”. The number of newspaper headlines that included “Media Literacy?” ” Three.
Linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff points out that without frames we are unable to form thoughts. He uses the term “hypocognition” to explain the implications of a lack of frameworks for a concept.
Increasingly ineffective regulation
Policies and laws to control media content have become increasingly ineffective. In February Telegraph The article mentions: “Two prominent partners in Facebook’s flagship project against fake news have stepped down, with staff at one saying it has become ‘impossible’ to manage the workload.”
Coping with Facebook, and arguably all digital content, can be a losing battle. But discussing and prioritizing the urgency of creating media-literate citizens – and implementing essential education – might stand a chance.
As Postman points out, schools must help young people learn to interpret what he calls symbols of their culture. Media education should be a fundamental component of education at all levels of education. Reading. Writing. Arithmetic.
Students, indeed all of us, must learn to ask questions about the stories being told. We must learn to ask questions about the interests that are served by the way the stories are crafted. And we must learn to ask questions about the implications of the stories that are not being told.
It is urgent not only to ask these questions in a coherent way, but also in a reflective way.