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Media Literacy 10 top tips _

Make sure you have a healthy information diet.

We know that we should care about the quality of the food we eat. Doesn’t it make sense that we should also care about the quality of the information we consume?. The information we consume shapes our perceptions, decisions, and social interactions in profound ways. Just like a poor quality food and can have consequences for our health, poor quality information can have consequences for our knowledge repertoire (or knowledge health). And what is the problem with that? Well, the problem is that our knowledge repertoire is what we use to interreact with the world around us in a logical and objective way. If we learn something that is wrong or flawed, this can lead to flawed decision-making, poor judgments and incorrect conclusions – all of which can have very negative consequences for our lives and the lives of other people around us.

So making sure that we have access to, and can recognise accurate and reliable information is really important if we want to make rational and well-informed decisions about so many aspects of our lives, from healthcare and finance to politics and social interactions.

When people are well-informed, they become more empowered and better prepared to engage in meaningful public conversations, understand complex issues, and make appropriate choices during key events in their lives, such as elections, for example. Being well-informed with accurate and reliable information also promotes a culture of learning, which reinforces the democratic process and contributes to a more robust and resilient society.

Always check the source of information.

Without a source, all information is potentially worthless. Imagine you are hearing an interesting piece of gossip from someone. Before you believe it, you’d probably want to know where the information came from, right? That’s because the reliability of the person telling the story can impact how likely the story is to be true.

Similarly, when you come across any piece of content, whether it is a news article, a video, or a post on social media, it is really important to check where it is coming from before jumping to conclusions.

We all know that the internet is filled with stories, some true and some not. It can be hard to tell the difference.
Some stories might be based on information that is not factually correct, some might twist information for their benefit, and some might just be making things up for attention or fun. The key point here is that the credibility of a source largely determines the reliability of the information it presents. Trusted institutions, well-established news agencies, and well-known experts typically have standards, reputation, and accountability tools that provide some assurance that their information is reliable. By checking the source, you’re ensuring you’re not easily tricked or misled and making sure that what you’re learning, believing, or sharing with others is as close to the truth as possible.

Use your scepticism rationally and wisely.

Even if you have a very good information diet and choose your sources carefully, you still have to apply some level of scepticism when you are dealing with media content. But what does scepticism mean in the context of media and information? Scepticism mainly involves questioning information to determine its validity. A sceptic doesn’t accept claims at face value but seeks evidence, rational reasoning, and logical consistency before drawing a conclusion. Scepticism is a tool to guard against deception, misinformation, and premature conclusions, and it encourages ongoing learning and curiosity.

Cynicism, on the other hand, is a more rigid and distrustful perspective. It entails a general disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motivations and actions, often expecting negative outcomes or intentions.

While healthy scepticism can lead to more profound understanding and defence against falsehoods, cynicism can lead to disengagement, hopelessness, and a lack of trust in people and institutions. Over time, chronic cynicism can erode personal relationships, reduce collaboration and community participation, and hinder positive change.

You have probably heard someone saying that “they don’t believe in anything nor trust anyone”. Well, that’s not very wise. There are certainly people and institutions that deserve to be trusted, and your role is to use your scepticism not to discredit everything and everyone, but instead to critically evaluate the ones that deserve your trust, based on evidence and reason.

Use your critical thinking skills when dealing with media content and information.

We’re constantly bombarded with information coming from various sources, from news articles to social media posts. How do we avoid being overloaded by all this information and figure out which bits are worth our attention and which bits are not?

This is where critical thinking comes in. Critical thinking means looking for evidence, identifying potential mistakes or contradictions in an argument, evaluating sources, and considering multiple perspectives.

Critical thinking works like an analytical, logical and systematic tool that allows us to look at content or information, ask appropriate questions and analyse in detail.

By thinking critically, we can sift through information, figure out what’s relevant from what’s redundant or misleading – which allows us to be more focused on and better understand relevant issues.

Critical thinking also allows us to separate verifiable facts from personal viewpoints, ensuring that our understanding of a topic is grounded in facts and not skewed by subjective opinions. Critical thinking also helps us spot biases in information that might influence the information presented and adjust our interpretation accordingly.

Critical thinking is process that we use to evaluate information and enables us to be sensible consumers of media content, capable of making informed and rational decisions in a world packed with diverse and often conflicting information.

Always check your own biases.

We all have a tendency to read information in a way that confirm beliefs and convictions that we already have. That what confirmation bias is. It’s an involuntary act of disregarding information that challenges or contradicts our beliefs, while giving more importance to information that aligns with them. This bias can lead to a distorted perception of reality, as we may unintentionally ignore important facts or evidence simply because we don’t like them.

It is important to understand that we all have biases and it’s not possible to get rid of them completely. However, we can at least be aware of this tendency to give more importance to information that matches our personal preferences. This is a very good first step and can have many positive benefits in our daily lives.

With so much information coming at us from so many sources – often prompted by algorithms that probably have a prerry good idea about our beliefs – it’s so easy to fall into the trap of consuming content that only aligns with our pre-existing beliefs. Many different narratives and perspectives coexist and if we don’t check our biases, we risk becoming passive consumers of information, rather than active and critical ones.

Besides, unchecked biases can reduce our capacity for empathy and understanding and negatively affect our interactions and discussions with other people by leading us to automatically dismiss peoples positions and concerns, without even listening to them.

Be wary of doctored images and videos.

We used to be able to say that a picture never lies. Unfortunately, that’s now a lie!

The manipulation of images and videos to deceive or misinform is a growing concern, especially as technology makes it very easy for practically anyone to edit images and videos with tools and applications that are easily installed on your phone, tablet or computer. A couple of clicks and pieces of photos and videos can be added or removed, enhance or changed completely to create entirely different meanings and narratives.

So it’s very important to view images and videos online with a critical eye. Always look at provocative or sensational images and videos with scepticism, especially if they trigger strong emotional reactions, as in many cases they are manipulated simply to generate online engagement or to push specific narratives. Observe the content carefully, looking for signs of manipulation. For example, in images this could be inconsistencies in lighting, shadows, or proportions, or elements in the image that seem out of place or strange. For videos, pay attention to the audio – does it match the visual content perfectly, or does it seem disconnected and confused?

Before sharing the visual content, take the time to verify its authenticity. You can use, for instance, reverse image search tools like Google Images or TinEye to find the source of an image. These tools can help you identify earlier versions of the image and other places where it has been used, allowing you to assess whether it has been doctored or not. For videos, you can, for example, search for the footage on reliable sources to confirm its legitimacy.

Remember: if you’re unable to verify the content’s authenticity, do not share it.

Learn how to deal with conspiratorial thinking.

Conspiracy theories are beliefs or explanations that imply that some events or situations are the result of secretive, usually malicious plots by hidden, mysterious or powerful groups, even when there is little or no evidence to support such claims. These theories usually thrive on mistrust of governments, institutions and powerful people, offering alternative explanations that can be very persuasive, and providing emotional comfort or a sense of superiority.

It is human nature to seek out concrete explanations or reason for situations that make us feel scared, insecure or threatened, or for important and impactful events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. But when there is no fast, simple explanation, there is a risk that simplistic theories will emerge usually based on selective, misrepresented, or absolute false information. This is problematic because it can leading people away from the actual truth, and the more people get involved with these theories, the harder it becomes for them to distinguish between reliable and false information, completely distorting their perception of reality.

When you encounter someone with this kind of conspiratorial thinking, don’t mock them or try to persuade them with evidence to prove they are wrong. This is not going to change their minds. Instead, try listening to them with respect, even if you disagree, because trying to understand where they are coming from is important. Instead of confronting them with facts, ask questions that encourage critical thinking, such as “how did you come across this information?” or “what makes you believe this source is reliable?”. The aim is to make them see the problems in the argument by themselves. And, finally, try to encourage them to explore a variety of sources, emphasising the importance of cross-checking information.

Be a responsible sharer

Being responsible with the information you share online is important for many reasons, including personal safety, the well-being of others, and the broader implications for society.

To begin with, the internet is a huge repository, and once information is shared, it’s very difficult to control where it is going. Personal details or private moments can be used for scams, for example, or even potential threats to your safety. Overexposing personal information can make you vulnerable to cyberbullying, stalking, and other harmful online activities.

Beyond individual concerns, there is a collective responsibility as well. Sharing misleading or false information, even without intention, can have serious consequences. For example, if you spread baseless rumours or hoaxes, this can promote panic, create misunderstandings, or even harm reputations. Especially in today’s digital age, where information travels very fast, lies, rumours, gossip and half-truths can spread rapidly and take root before they are debunked.

In more extreme scenarios, sharing misleading or false health information, for example, can result in people making inappropriate and even dangerous decisions, threatening not only their well-being but also the well-being and safety of others. In the realm of politics or public policy, spreading false or incorrect information or narratives can mislead public opinion, damaging the democratic process and leading to decisions based on incorrect or incomplete information that can negatively affect entire communities.

Finally, we have to be conscious of other people’s privacy. Remember: sharing private information about someone else without their consent – be it photos, personal details, or other sensitive data – can be a serious violation of their privacy, and the law, with profound consequences for both the victim and you.

Be wary of how get your news on social media platforms.

Recently studies have shown that people are increasingly getting their news on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, X and TikTok. While this is convenient for us and these platforms offer extraordinary access to information, there are significant downsides to be aware of.

To begin with, the vast amount of information and the fast-paced nature of social media feeds can promote quick-skimming over actual reading of news. This can result in users getting only a superficial understanding of news stories which can drastically affect the way they understand a story or event. Also, the fast and viral nature of content sharing on social media means that false or misleading information can proliferate quickly. Without rigorous editorial standards in place, it’s easy for people with bad intentions to crate fake accounts or pages pretending to be news outlets to disseminate fake or distorted facts as if they were real news.

It is also important to understand that social media platforms are primarily profit-driven. This means that advertisers pay for visibility, which can sometimes blur the lines between authentic news content and sponsored content or ads. To complicate things further, attention-grabbing headlines, clickbait, and sensational stories usually receive more traction and become ‘trends’ more easily on social media platforms than nuanced, in-depth journalism. News stories that incite strong emotions, whether positive or negative, are more likely to be shared, creating a potential bias towards emotionally charged news over more neutral, balanced reporting.

Think about all these issues while consuming news on social media platforms. And consider going directly to news media websites for a more comprehensive and in-depth experience of news consumption.

Be curious about what is going on in the digital media landscape.

Given the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the digital media landscape, it is very helpful to try and keep as up-to-date as possible about the opportunities and challenges offered by communication technologies.

The tools and platforms used to create and distribute media content are constantly changing, with new social media platforms, content creation tools, and distribution channels emerging all the time. Being curious and seeking our opportunities to learn about developments, will help you critically engage with content across different media and platforms.

Also, the way we consume media has changed significantly, moving from traditional platforms like newspapers and television to digital and social media. Keeping pace with these changes in media consumption allows you to better understand the context and credibility of the information you encounter. This is also valid for the disinformation problem: the strategies used to spread disinformation are becoming more sophisticated, requiring people to constantly update their media literacy skills so that they can effectively identify and counter new forms of disinformation.

Keeping up-to-date with technology is not easy. We are all busy with packed schedules, but taking a little bit of time to sharpen our media literacy skills is so valuable because it empowers us to be responsible media consumers, to navigate the digital information environment more safely and effectively and it promotes informed citizenship – so everyone benefits.

To find out more about how to stay up-to-date and find opportunities for formal and informal learning like workshops and webinars, follow reliable media literacy organisations, such as Media Literacy Ireland.