News media has always carried with it some types of bias, from widespread cultural assumptions about foreign groups to the political polarization of a two-party system. Still, despite this legacy, we are currently living through a period of intense division in which trust in the media is at an all time low – and this has forced an important reckoning. Rather than encouraging suspicion, we need to foster greater digital literacy among all communities and ages so that people feel equipped to interpret information on their own, rather than accept content at face value.
Information Literacy Versus Digital Literacy
Information literacy has long been a topic in classrooms, as students learn to tell the difference between fact and opinion or what makes an appropriate source for a research paper, but the Internet has created dramatically different conditions and allowed anyone to become a media maker. That can make it much harder to determine what’s a credible source and what isn’t, given that YouTube is both the most popular social media source for news and home to dangerous frauds known as “deepfakes,” or that blogs might break a news story before a traditional paper. However, while this complexity may make it harder to identify media bias, it doesn’t make it impossible.
Start With The Basics
Instead of expecting the entire population’s relationship to the media to change overnight, one of the best things we can do when talking about media bias is provide people with basic guidelines for interpreting sources, some of which may seem overly simplistic to digital natives. This simplification is important, though, because everyone comes to sources with different experiences and knowledge of what digital media is and how it works. This is especially those who are not digital natives, but everyone can do with a trip back to the classroom occasionally.
Among the most important things students are typically taught as they develop a digital literacy framework include the following:
- Digital citizenship is a responsibility. Though the internet opens up new worlds, it does not guarantee anything. Each individual must use common sense, evaluate perspectives, and differentiate primary and secondary sources, among other factors, especially before sharing a piece of information.
- Stick to sources you know. Until you develop greater capacity to discern between sources, it can be helpful to identify a few trustworthy sources and focus on getting your information from known quantities and expand your circle of sources from there.
Grow Your Skills
Once you’ve learned the basics of digital literacy, it’s time to develop a more critical eye. That means actively seeking to identify the misinformation that exists online and differentiating between bias and misinformation.
- Misinformation is everywhere. If you want to be skilled at evaluating media bias, it’s important to start with this awareness. Misinformation is not always malicious – though it can be – but many online sources aren’t fact checked. Cross-reference sources to look for contradictions and determine where consensus lies.
- Assume bias, but be attentive. Every news source has some kind of bias, and bias and truth are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the Ad Fontes Media Bias chart, a commonly used resource for evaluating news sources, actually ranks sources based on multiple factors, including political partisanship, reliability, and how much they provide facts as opposed to analysis or propaganda. So, while you may hear a lot about liberal bias in media, it’s important to understand that a source can skew in a political direction without sacrificing the facts.
The online media network means that we are all simultaneously consumers and creators, and that alone is reason enough to read news sources with a critical eye. While we are citizens of the world, the web is a major source of connection, and greater digital literacy can only strengthen those connections in a time of division.