Tuesday 6th February is Safer Internet Day, a landmark event in the online safety calendar. Its focus lies upon making the internet a safer place for children and young people, who are arguably introduced to the online world at younger and younger ages today. This year, the focus is upon “Inspiring Change: Making a difference, managing influence and navigating change online.”
This includes covering:
- Young people’s perspective on new and emerging technology!
- Using the internet to make positive change.
- Changes that young people want to see online.
- What influences young people’s feelings, thoughts, and actions on and offline!
Because of this, we’ve decided to discuss the importance of media literacy and navigating misinformation online! Not only is this a vital skill for young people online with the emergence of technologies such as deepfakes, incorrect information presented as fact, and the power influencers have over that fact, but it is something that we, as adults, should also navigate critically in order to correctly educate the next generation and not fall foul ourselves.
What is Media Literacy?
In a nutshell, media literacy is the ability to critically analyse stories presented in mass media (such as social media, news outlets etc.) and determine their accuracy and credibility. For the sake of this blog, we will be focussing very specifically on the internet!
Essentially, how likely are you to read or see a source of information and believe it on the offset? How likely are you to allow your personal biases and opinions to determine fact from fiction? How likely are you to, even, elevate your own personal opinion above fact? Having a sense of media literacy is more important than it’s ever been. With our ability to take in more information than ever before, it’s vital that we’re willing to challenge everything we see, and not just passively share information we’re not entirely clear on!
Why is it Important?
The internet’s greatest asset is also perhaps its greatest drawback – the ability for anyone and everyone to share online. Whilst it’s great that everyone now has the ability to share their opinions, news etc., it doesn’t necessarily mean they should. Not everyone will fact check what they’re saying and in fact, some may even purposefully begin rumours to further their own opinions or beliefs. It’s vital that you don’t take everything at face value, and that before sharing something you might agree with, to check the source of that information first. Can’t find it? Don’t share it.
Spreading misinformation can be harmful. The most famous examples perhaps being Anti-Vaccination articles of late. Vaccines have dramatically reduced the number of people suffering with infectious diseases around the world, despite this, many still refuse to give their child the MMR vaccine due to the now discredited paper on an alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Of course, this was 20 years ago, but now this information has the ability to be resurfaced and spread like wildfire. This may cause people to not get their children vaccinated and, as a consequence, may see an uptake in diseases that were once combatted with vaccination.
So, with the real-world implications that misinformation online can have, it is very important that we read beyond that often eye-catching and overly dramatic headline.
What Can I do?
With emerging technology such as AI on the rise, it is becoming ever harder, but more important, to be media literate. After all, not only is text-based information at a risk of being affected now, but image-based information too.
The method of dealing with these is exactly the same – challenge the source of what you see. If there isn’t one that’s viable or credible, tread with caution before believing it. Essentially, that is all you can do. Don’t rush to share the latest trend, or news, in a bid to ride the wave. Question it first, then share – perhaps if you learn that it is incorrect, you can add your insight and correct it in an effort to combat the misinformation head on! The ability to educate is a great thing about social media, make a positive impact and change instead!
A Willingness to be Challenged
In order to spot misinformation, you have to be open to being corrected. It’s important not to elevate your opinion above fact, and if you do learn that something you believe isn’t factually true, be willing to alter your opinion or belief. It isn’t a bad thing to change your mind, and it isn’t a bad thing to grow. Also, expect the same of others, and that if they change their minds, they should not be upheld to previous beliefs or opinions they previously had! Contrary to popular belief online, most people are not stagnant.
However! It’s vital that you don’t force your opinion upon others – again, just because you believe something is true, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone else does. Be willing to have open conversations with those who don’t share your opinions, be willing to listen and share to make yourself a more open person! You never know, open conversation may convince someone to look at an opposing opinion more positively than if they are riled up and insulted.
For example. Although I myself am vegetarian, I would never walk into a KFC and proclaim everyone there is an awful person for eating there. I am not only walking into a space that isn’t mine, but I am also declaring my opinion and beliefs are above those of the people in there. On the other hand, I would expect the same respect in return.
With that in mind! In order to have an open discussion with others about your opinion, you must be willing to have your own views and opinions challenged, this goes for things you see online. This is the first step to spotting and challenging misinformation!
Everyone falls foul of misinformation. Most have an image in their minds of the typical person who spreads and falls for misinformation – the anti-vaxxers, the right wing, the flat earthers! Trust me, they are not the only ones who fall for and spread it! And to be willing to spot it, you have to be open to the fact that actually, no one is immune to it.
Great, so you’ve got that out of the way! How do you spot misinformation?
Ask yourself these things: where is the source of this information from? Is that source credible? Is that source based on fact? Is the person speaking on this subject an expert in that subject? Are they a part of the community affected by the subject? If the answer to any of these is no or not sure, then tread with caution! This also applies when making your own opinion heard – if it’s something controversial or about a community you’re not involved in, ask yourself if your opinion is valid or needed here. Don’t add to the spread of misinformation, stand back, evaluate, research.
After all, you don’t want to embarrass yourself and be corrected by the actual source of information.
Making Positive Change
Many, when they dislike social media, often characterise it as being a place filled with negativity and falsehoods. In some essences, this is true – there are parts of social media that you could call “a cesspool” however, you can characterise any aspect of anywhere in this way. What’s important is to cut through all that and inject positivity instead. Choose to be the change!
So, if you see something that annoys you, choose not to engage, or go away, relax, and then come back. If you see something that’s incorrect, why not do some detective work and take the opportunity to educate people in a positive way? If you see something you agree with but seems sensationalised, question it. Instead of disallowing anyone to challenge your opinion or beliefs, open yourself up to feedback. And always remember, behind that block of text is a human being, as easy as it is to forget online!
If you’re someone with influence, remember that. Remember that what you say has weight and instead of using it to spread misinformation, why not use it to spread positivity instead? Because with great influence comes great responsibility!