Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication. It's an essential life skill that empowers you to be both a critical thinker and an effective communicator.
Media literacy is just one branch of the literacy tree!
Fake news itself comes in a variety of flavors:
Pure fake news sites use fabricated stories to lure traffic, encourage clicks (click bait), influence or profit using intentionally deceptive, but highly intriguing, often sensational information.
Hoax sites also share false information with the intention to trick readers/viewers
Satirical sites present news with a comical, often exaggerated spin
Born digital images and edited images alter and often misrepresent visual reality
Source: School Library Journal
In their 2017 study "Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election," Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow define "Fake News" as "news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers." They also delineate several "close cousins":
Use the tools in this guide to develop your own definition!
Satire or Parody - Content has no intention to cause harm but has potential to fool.
False Connection - Headlines or visuals don't support assertions of content.
Misleading Content - Misleading use of information to frame an issue or individual.
False Context - Genuine content is shared with false contextual information.
Imposter Content - Genuine sources are impersonated.
Manipulated Content - Genuine information is manipulated in order to deceive.
Fabricated Content - New content is false, and is designed to deceive and do harm.
The terms "misinformation" and "disinformation" are all over the news. The terms are similar in that they both denote information that's false. However, they are not interchangeable!
Misinformation - False or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive. Source: Oxford English Dictionary
Disinformation - False information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media. Source: Oxford English Dictionary
The capacity of artificial intelligence to manufacture and distribute content quickly and efficiently has made it ever more difficult to sort out fact from fiction. Per a June 2023 New York Times analysis, election officials are increasingly concerned about the ability of candidates to rapidly disseminate misinformation, disinformation and propaganda via text and video.
"The problem is not that some people might believe something that’s not true. The problem is that most people might stop caring if anything is true."
- Siva Vaidhyanathan, Director, University of Virginia Center for Media & Citizenship
Social media and technology have changed the way we access the news. Many of us get our news from our social media feeds rather than directly from journalists.
Social media news feeds use algorithms to show us posts that align with our opinions and interests. That means we usually see news articles that confirm our own viewpoints. This phenomenon is called the "filter bubble."
"The downside is...social channels [e.g.YouTube, Instagram] present information to people most likely to believe them.” - Renee DiResta, Stanford Internet Observatory
In their 2017 study, Allcott & Gentzkow isolate potential social costs to the production and dissemination of "fake news":
How do you know what to believe?
Humans are hardwired to engage with information that garners an emotional response, and online algorithms are set to maximize their engagement in order to increase revenues. The result is a media diet that sows anger, distrust and fear. In an attempt to break the cycle, the News Literacy Project has created Trust Me, a feature length documentary and educational program that explores manipulation and misinformation at the intersection of human nature and information technology. It includes classroom-friendly clips, curriculum, discussion guides and more.
Amarasingam, Amarnath (Ed.) (2011). The Stewart/Colbert effect: essays on the real impacts of fake news. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.
Caulfield, Mike (2017). Web literacy for student fact-checkers.
Jamieson, Kathleen Hall & Brooks Jackson (2007). unSpun: Finding facts in a world of disinformation. New York: Random House.
Kovach, Bill & Tom Rosenstiel (2010). Blur: How to know what’s true in an age of information overload. New York: Bloomsbury USA.
Levitin, Daniel (2016). A Field guide to lies: critical thinking in the information age. New York: Dutton.
Sharot, Tali (2017). The Influential mind: What the brain reveals about our power to change others. New York: Henry Holt.
Stebbins, Leslie F. (2015). Finding reliable information online: Adventures of an information sleuth. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.