How to Improve Your Media Literacy

While it really should be, media literacy is still not a mandatory subject—or even taught—in most school systems. We must educate ourselves, not only for our own benefit, but to also pass on the skills to the children and young folk in our lives. Some babies are playing with iPads before they can walk, so I fear what the future may hold for them if they don’t get educated.

With the amount of media that bombards us every day, it’s impossible to be in complete control of what goes in our brains, but strengthening our analytical and evaluative skills can keep us vigilant.

First, I highly recommend watching the Crash Course YouTube channel’s miniseries on media literacy. These 12 videos take you from the history of media to what we can anticipate in the future. If you don’t have time to take a university course on media literacy, this is the next best thing.

Video #11: Media Skills gives you tips on navigating the diverse media landscape:

Around the 3:31 mark, we’re presented with the 5 questions media literacy scholar Renee Hobbs recommends asking ourselves when engaging with media.

1. Who created this message, and what is the purpose?

2. What techniques does it use to attract and hold attention?

3. What lifestyles, values, and points of views does it depict?

4. How might different people interpret this message?

5. What is omitted, or left out?

Practice this on that Facebook article you suspect might be fake news, those ads that keep following you around the Internet, or the original promo video for the infamous(ly doomed) Fyre Festival.

It wouldn’t hurt to install the Trusted News or NewsGuard plugin on your browser, which tells you which news sites are reliable and which are suspicious.

Another way to weed out fake news is by using The C.R.A.P. Test:

Currency—Is the content up to date?

Reliability—Is it fact-based or opinion? Does it use valid sources and data? If opinion, is it balanced?

Authority—What are the credentials of the author? Who is the publisher or sponsor of the research?

Purpose/Point of View—Why does this content exist? Is it biased, trying sell you something, or push an agenda? If so, does the author make that clear?

Psychology in Advertising

Many of us think we’re too smart for ads and we can simply ignore them, but the reality is that advertising, even an image we see for a split second, affect us whether we like it or not.

Advertising firms are using cognitive research to influence us, so it’s good to know just exactly what tricks they are using to get us. This video shows the sophisticated methods some commercials employ, to give you an idea:

In the last post, I recommended 6 documentaries to watch that can help increase your media literacy. Definitely watch the first two to simultaneously laugh and cry over how advertising campaigns throughout time have sold us things we don’t need by using the most ridiculous tactics.

I also recommend the classic book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert  B. Cialdini, PhD. Not only is the book extremely funny, you learn the six principles of why we say yes to things. This is a salesman’s bible, so reading this also keeps us sharp as to how others may be influencing or manipulating us.

If you forget everything else from this post, just remember to be skeptical. Not in an old grouch kind of way, but just don’t take anything you see and hear at face value so you can get a better glimpse of what’s behind the smokescreen.

What tools and resources do you use to engage with mass media? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by Branden Harvey on Unsplash

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