Perspective: Digital Media Literacy

Nov 20, 2020

One consequence of the recent election is renewed scrutiny of digital media.

Educating users to be critical consumers of information has always been a vital tool for democratic self-governance. Media literacy education works. We did it with other innovations, like print and television. And we can and must do the same with social media.

But literacy education in a new medium can take several generations to be successful. We do not have that kind of time. So here’s a quick introduction in three simple steps:

First, know the platform. Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, TikTok or something else; know the rules, regulations, and business practices of the application. You can find this information in the terms of service— a document which none of us ever really reads.

Second, since the content posted to these platforms is created by users, know your source. Track-back through the threads, shares, and profiles to identify and evaluate the source of the information. The good thing about social media is also the bad thing: anyone can post anything. So know who is posting what and why.

Finally, verify, verify, verify. In the era of print, we relied on gatekeepers, like editors, who would check that the contents of a story were valid before going to publication. Now this job occurs after posting and is a responsibility passed on to users. Everything should be cross checked and independently verified before you share, especially if it sounds either too good -- or too bad -- to be true.

I’m David Gunkel and that’s my perspective.