photo by: nist6dh
Tell me if you’ve done this before:
You see an article come up in your Facebook feed. The headline resonates with you. It pulls at your heartstrings. It solidifies your worldview and supports an argument you stand behind. You click ‘share’ after a light skim of the article. Maybe you didn’t even read it at all. Or maybe you disagree with the headline or don’t like the picture attached, so you make a comment hastily disparaging the whole thing without even reading it.
This needs to STOP.
With satirical websites popping up everywhere trying so desperately to become The Onion, and inflammatory clickbait articles coming at us from every side of the political spectrum, it’s more important than ever to strengthen our media literacy and critical thinking skills.
It was a concept that came up a lot when I was in university studying Communications: always consider the source. But back then, Facebook was barely even a thing. Social media consisted of MSN messenger and maybe ICQ and Myspace. And not everyone had become their own online publishing house yet. Knowing the sources and motives behind every message you read was super important back then, and I would argue it’s a million times more important today.
Now, information travels at lightning speed, and people have become way too quick on the trigger to spread absolute drivel that’s only lining the pockets of shady internet marketers. A lot of these wannabe satire websites are being a little too covert in their satirical writing, posting articles that fall flat of delivering the humorous effect they should be, and instead encouraging otherwise intelligent people to spread–and worse, believe–misinformation that can be damaging to the general public’s knowledge base.
It’s also disheartening to see so many websites trying to piggyback on tragedies with emotionally charged headlines designed to increase their traffic and ad revenue. Whether it’s police brutality, racism, sexism, terrorism or any other issue that’s currently on the radar, there’s at least a handful of opportunistic websites out there trying to capitalize on it. Of course this is a problem with many sensationalist news sources supported by advertising dollars, but it seems to be a million times worse on the web. That’s because virtually anyone can start a website and write an article, while there’s a bigger barrier of entry for trashy newspapers and TV news programs.
Media Literacy Checklist
With this in mind, I’ve put together a little media literacy checklist you can use when reading things on the internet and deciding whether or not to endorse or condemn the information they contain.
1.) READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE.
It’s crazy that this even needs to be said. Before you spread or condemn information, it’s important to first understand it. We have become far too lazy in the instant information age.
2.) Consider the source.
Is it a reputable media outlet? Sure, many mainstream media outlets also have ulterior motives and political agendas, but you can be confident that they AT LEAST have some journalistic best practices in place. Credible alternative media outlets also exist. Not sure if an article you’re reading is coming from a credible source? If you have never heard of the website before, check out their ‘About Us’ to find out who is running the show, do a quick Google and poke around the site to get at taste of their political leanings and subject matter.
Other warning signs: If they follow the article by suggesting that you might also like to read about ‘The Greatest Celebrity Plastic Surgery Fails of All Time’ or their URL looks something like ‘www.viralbaitinfo.net’, there’s a pretty good chance the site is not a credible news source. Sites like that exist with one purpose and one purpose only: to post controversial things that drive traffic and generate online ad revenue.
3.) Who is the author?
A lot of these terrible baity websites post articles with NO AUTHOR listed. That’s a big red flag. If no one is willing to put their name on the article, chances are, the information is questionable at best.
4.) Who are the advertisers?
Does the website look like its first purpose is to bombard you with ads about that ‘one weird trick for getting rid of belly fat’? Ads are a fact of online life, and one of the main ways a website can make money, but if you’re wading through buttloads of pop-ups, banners and random Google ads for anything and everything, chances are responsible journalism isn’t at the top of their priority list.
This checklist is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it helps you become a little more considerate of the information you’re endorsing, sharing and condemning online, and I hope it helps reduce the rampant slacktivism polluting our feeds and our minds on a daily basis… even just a little bit.
Got any other tips to share? Post them in the comments!