Untangling online misinformation through media literacy

We live in a country that’s one of the most connected in the world, with 92 per cent of Canadians being Internet users. From watching the news on TV to scrolling social media on our smartphones, media presents us with countless messages that inform, entertain and sell.

However, while the media can provide accurate information, it also presents plenty of misinformation. This is problematic since research shows the impact the media has on us.

Being able to critically and responsibly access and understand all kinds of media is known as media literacy. With the average Internet user spending 6.5 hours online per day, media literacy is an essential skill to have.

Strong media literacy allows us to critically analyze information and make informed decisions about what we see and read. Without it, we’re more likely to fall for fake news online – something that’s happened to 90 per cent of Canadians.

Here’s what else you should know about the importance of media literacy.

What is media literacy? 

Media literacy is a learned skill which encourages us to question what we watch, hear and read when we engage with media. Media literacy is not restricted to one medium and can include newspapers, TV, images, audio messages, video games and social media.

When information is online, media literacy overlaps with digital literacy – the knowledge, skills and confidence to keep up with changes in technology. Without digital literacy skills, we wouldn’t even be able to access most of today’s media, let alone analyze it responsibly.

When we have strong media literacy skills, we’re more aware of media influence, can avoid its potential manipulation, and can use digital spaces safely and confidently. This essential 21st-century skill helps us recognize the influence that media has and provides us with the knowledge and tools to lessen its impact.

But, as important as media literacy is, it’s a skill set that’s not widely taught – yet.

Identifying fake news: Key concepts for digital and media literacy

Unfortunately, countless resources contain false information masked as credible news sources. These articles aim to surprise readers, causing many to share them with others without questioning their credibility. In no time, many people soon believe the fake story is true.

Besides misinformation in the media, there are also toxic messages. Reading, viewing or hearing negative messages can negatively impact our mental health and worsen already difficult situations.

Media giants like Google and Facebook are making strides towards removing fake news. Google even has a Center for Content Responsibility where experts strive to stop publishing illegal, harmful content.

Even so, fake news writers will always find ways around digital roadblocks.

Media literacy skills: How they help navigate digital misinformation

By understanding the media that we observe daily and critically evaluating its messages, we are able to make better choices. We discover what we can trust to read, watch and listen to and therefore become smarter, more discerning citizens. We’re more likely to detect fake news when we’re media literate.

Overall, we’re better equipped to evaluate the media we encounter rather than consume it at face value. We achieve this in four different ways:

  1. Analytically: We can better understand the message by reviewing the information we encounter, like verifying the information on a credible news site.
  2. Emotionally: The creator behind the media wants us to feel a certain way (i.e., insecure about our weight or satisfied with smoking). Being aware of this lets us know that we can feel however we want – without the pressure from a media source.
  3. Visually: The visual aspects of a message also play a part in convincing a media consumer. For example, a commercial with ‘before’ and ‘after’ images may make viewers believe a product will produce results.
  4. Morally: By analyzing the values conveyed within a message, we can recognize what the media is trying to say to us. For example, do the advertisers imply a connection between thinness and happiness?

Media literacy for adult educators

Media literacy offers significant benefits, including heightened citizen awareness, enhanced critical thinking abilities, and deeper, more meaningful interactions with media.

Unfortunately, much more work is necessary in media literacy education. As of 2022, almost half of adults aged 19 to 81 did not learn media literacy skills in school. And adults lacking that skill set are more likely to believe fake news.

Our digital literacy resources can help guide you as a literacy practitioner when teaching media literacy. Browse our programs today!