In this age of journalistic hyperbole, information literacy is more important than ever. The internet is at once an echo chamber and hall of mirrors, where news is amplified to distortion and twisted into kinks. Without the necessary skills to parse facts, we are vulnerable as citizens and consumers, and so is our democracy.
Teaching Information Literacy
Critical thinking is an essential ability in this age of super-fast, free-flowing news.
Teach young people to engage in healthy scepticism.
- If it’s too good, too bad, too extreme, bizarre or reactionary to be true—most likely it’s fake.
Show young people how to check facts with reliable, verified sources. Direct them to educational databases, such as the ones available in school and public libraries. Introduce them to fact-checking sites like these:
Help young people recognise the hallmarks of sensationalism, bias, inference, parody and trollish behaviour.
- Who wrote it? Is the author an expert? (Check them out on LinkedIn)
- Does the site have ads? What kind of ads?
- Hatred, racial slurs, vulgar language, demeaning photos, etc. are all red flags.
- Is the story covered anywhere else?
- Does the article leave you feeling enraged, anxious, sad, or otherwise upset? The fundamental task of (real) news is to inform, not to scare or arouse.
Bias is Everywhere
As mentioned above, the internet can act as an echo chamber, especially if we are seeking to reinforce our interpretation of matters. A healthier approach is to seek balance and a wide array of sources, but this can be difficult as Eli Pariser explains in his TED Talk entitled Beware Online Filter Bubbles. It turns out, good intentions to seek a balanced diet of information might not be enough. The algorithms embedded in social media decide for you.
Header by Nizhny Novgorod, CC 0 via Unsplash
Infographics are CC BY-NC 4.0 International, from Indiana University East
TED Talk, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International