Quality writing includes citing sources correctly and avoiding bias or plagiarism. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, as the content we read online goes to extreme lengths to capture our attention and influence our behaviour. This is why developing media literacy is key, so you can read critically, make informed choices, and identify biases in your own writing.
What Is Media Literacy?
Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media messages. It helps people become critical, active consumers and producers of media that understand the role of media in society.
Analyze Media Messages
Media messages are messages shared by organizations, individuals, news, and social media users with the intent to inform, entertain, persuade, or sell products to their target audience (you). This includes advertisements you see online, news clips, articles, social media posts, videos, images, and much more.
To develop your media literacy, it’s important to think critically about the media you consume and create. This includes understanding the purpose, audience, and techniques used in the message as well as identifying any bias or manipulation. It also includes understanding the context in which the message is presented, such as the source, medium, and historical and cultural background.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to analyze media messages (think who, what, when, where, why, and how):
● Who created this media?
● Who is funding this information/media/platform?
● Who is the intended audience for this message?
● Who benefits from sharing this message?
● What is the purpose of sharing this information/media?
● What does this information/message tell me about [the topic]?
● What sources back this message? Are they reputable? Are they from accredited and peer reviewed journals?
● What techniques are being used in this message to persuade me/others?
● What are the indirect messages?
● When was this information/media created? (i.e., is it recent or outdated?)
● When is this media message most relevant in my life? (e.g., does it pertain to a current event?)
● Where is this message/media being shared? (e.g., in a social media group, to specific communities)
● Where is this message/media NOT being shared? (i.e., who is being excluded?)
● Why is this message/information being shared? (i.e., to persuade, inform, entertain, or sell a product)
● Why is this message/information important or relevant to me/my community?
● How does this information/message impact my life or other’s lives?
● How is this message being shared across media platforms?
● How are other people reacting to this message/information?
● How might someone different from me (e.g., race, gender, nationality, socioeconomic background, age) interpret this message?
Evaluate Media Messages
Once you’ve analyzed a media message, evaluate it using your own criteria and values. This includes considering the accuracy, credibility, and reliability of the information, as well as the ethical and social implications of the information. It also includes considering your own emotions and reactions to it and whether they’ve been influenced by any manipulation or persuasion techniques.
To not fall victim of manipulation and persuasion techniques, it’s important to be aware of persuasive language strategies. Persuasive language is a powerful tool for winning your trust and influencing how you think. Let’s look at some examples.
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A lot of what we see online uses the power of storytelling to appeal to your emotions and suck you in. For example, the Dodo shares videos about cute animals or unlikely animal friends to keep you watching, which is their main goal. The more views they get, the more money they make.
Now, in the broad scheme of things, watching a 60-second video about animal friends is no big deal. But what if it’s a video from a social media user that’s asking for donations to a GoFundMe page? Is the story biased in any way? Is the story true?
Attacking the “other party” in an effort to discredit them or tear apart their reputation is a common strategy when persuading people. This is often used in political campaigns. People or organizations who employ this strategy are trying to manipulate your emotions or make you angry to convince you of an idea.
They might exaggerate facts or use a misleading perspective to win you over, so you should always do your homework when presented with two sides of an argument or story.
This strategy is often used when trying to persuade consumers to buy a product or service. Many ads or salespeople shower you with compliments to make you feel good. When you feel good about yourself, such as your lifestyle or your physical appearance, then you’re more likely to purchase whatever they’re selling.
This is the “us versus the world” mentality that’s so common in media. Many companies use terms like “us,” “we,” and “our” to give you a sense of inclusion. Social media influencers, for example, might try to make their followers feel like they’re friends with them in real life.
This strategy makes you feel included, welcomed, and part of a community – all of which are great! But people may use this language to manipulate and influence your emotions so that you like them or are inclined to buy something.
Developing Media Literacy
Developing your media literacy is an ongoing process that requires practice and reflection. There are several strategies and resources that can help you to improve your media literacy skills.
Fact Checking and Verification
A key strategy for developing media literacy is fact checking and verifying information. This includes using multiple sources, checking their credibility and reliability, and looking for independent verifications. There are several fact checking tools:
● LinkedIn (to look up authors and see if they have expertise in their field)
Education and Resources
Another strategy to develop media literacy is seeking out education and resources that can help you better understand the role of media in society and politics. This includes studying media and communication, reading books and articles about media literacy, and following experts and organizations on social media. Some media literacy organizations are:
Developing media literacy and being aware of the strategies and schemes that media uses is already difficult for adults, so imagine what it’s like for teens and children. They’re exposed to just as much (if not more!) media as adults are.
If you’re a parent and are concerned about your child’s media literacy, then have a conversation with them. You can also ask their teachers and school if they have a curriculum in place to educate students on media literacy. Be sure to also contact your local library for more resources and information.
Where can I find education and resources for media literacy?
Media Literacy Now is a great place to find resources for educators, parents, or individuals who are interested in learning more about media literacy.
How can media literacy help me to be a more informed citizen?
By becoming more media literate, you’ll learn to spot misinformation, misleading information, and manipulation tactics to make you believe a certain way. As a result, you’ll know where to find credible and reliable information so that you can make informed decisions when making purchases or casting your ballot.
How can I teach my children or students about media literacy?
If you’re a parent, have a conversation about media literacy with your children and educate yourself on media literacy so you can be prepared to answer their questions. For educators, using resources like Media Literacy Now is a great starting point, but you can also speak with your librarians or administration about implementing a media literacy curriculum at your school.
Media literacy is a big topic to take on and can feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to begin. The resources and links in this article are a great place to start educating yourself and expanding your knowledge of media literacy.
When you’re creating content, always make sure you have credible facts and information and use easy-to-understand language. If you need help polishing your content and conveying your message, our experts are here to help. We’ll even proofread your first 500 words for free!