Media Literacy Education: A Reflection

I have learned so much over these past weeks in my Digital Media Literacy course at Arizona State University, it’s hard to believe this is coming to a close and every class I take, gets me one step closer to achieving my goal of obtaining my BA in Mass Communication and Media Studies and reaching graduation. My past blog posts have touched on the key issues and topics that we all face in the digital age, but now I would like to give you a full understanding of why media literacy education is so necessary in today’s world and a subject for everyone to learn.

What does media literacy mean? Well simplified it means to be media literate, but what exactly is the ‘media’ and how can one be literate in it? The media is all of the mediums, or ways a message is dispersed. Media includes the internet, social media sites, pictures, books, television, newspapers, magazines, etc. It is all the ways in which we get our information. So, to be media literate you need to understand the processes of consuming media in an educated manner to be knowledgeable and properly informed media consumers and creators. NAMLE, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, is devoted to spreading the word about media literacy and can be defined through five main aspects: Access, Analyze, Evaluate, Create, and Act.

Access directly refers to the means in which people have the ability to access media depending on their location, time, resources, and their ability to control which type of media they receive and are able to retrieve information that is relevant to them. An example of this is my blog post about rural communities and their lack of ability to access important news and information due to their location and the limits set by internet companies. Not having access to the internet significantly harms people in those communities because more people than ever are using the internet as their source of news and by taking this away, these internet companies are purposefully leaving this large portion of the population out. The ability to analyze in media literacy means to be able to look at the material and apply critical thinking and ask questions such as who made this, why was it made, does the author have any biases, and what is the credibility of the author? An example of analyzing in media literacy could be seen in my fact-checking blog post where I discussed the importance of fact-checking and the ways in which misinformation can be spread if we don’t verify all the information of a piece of media before accepting it as truth. Without fact-checking, we would never be able to discern fact from fiction. It is especially troubling now with the internet, there are some people who refuse to fact-check or trust credible sources because they have bought into the “fake news” propaganda. ‘Evaluate’ refers to our ability to look at a piece of media and gather our own opinions and reflections about a message. This can be seen in my global warming blog post where I looked at how global warming was represented in the media and what messages and symbols are used to convey different messages about global warming. ‘Create’ in media literacy means using the information and the tools that media gives us to express ourselves. An example would be my “Generalization About Women in Media: Marriage and Having Children,” where I wrote about my stance on the issues posed, and formulated an argumentative piece about the lack of single women being portrayed in media and how marketing companies can benefit from tapping into this demographic. I was able to express this through research and gathering information from media that I had access to, analyzed, and then evaluated. My last post was in reference to ‘Act’ in media literacy in which we were all told to write about a cultural resource and how it is challenging the status quo based on the theory of Civic Imagination.

‘Act’ to me is probably the most important part of media literacy because if we learn all of these concepts and then just keep them to ourselves, we aren’t really helping anyone. Being able to take all of this information we have learned and apply it to our everyday lives is the goal; making tangible change by understanding how media affects all of us. Antonio Lopez’s Ecomedia Literacy specifically stood out to me during the last week of our class. It has to do with integrating the environment into our media in a way that media functions as a way to spread environmental awareness instead of it being a harmful agent of climate change. His idea for ecomedia literacy has a lot to do with how can we put the environment at the forefront of our minds to enact real physical changes in the world and how can we become an “ecocentric” world as opposed to “human-centered” world? These are big topics and require a lengthy education which he is determined to create. So much of this world is human-centered, and too much focus is on what can we do to make our lives better when we should really be asking how can we make our planet a better place to live?

Photo: WikiMedia Commons

In addition to the five aspects to define media literacy, we also discussed media ownership and regulation in the course. There are huge media conglomerates controlling the types of media we see by limiting or expanding our access which I touched on in my net neutrality blog post. The way we consume media has drastically changed over the past decade and now there are several big companies purchasing and selling so much of the media we are familiar with today. Those companies include Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Comcast, AT&T, etc. The media landscape is constantly evolving and a lot of it has to do with how these companies are trading shares and stocks among themselves. This Vox article shows in detail the map of the distributors, content, and streaming services and their stakes in each. More than that, we discussed how we need to be regulating these monopolies because no company should have that much power over the media market. We discussed Section 230 which essentially gives internet platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, free reign for content creators to post whatever they like without any consequences because, “they are not liable for what their users post.” In the 60 Minutes video we watched, it talked about the extent internet trolls will go to, to make a profit or garner attention for making false, defamatory claims. This is incredibly troubling and is the basis for people who believe in conspiracy theories because for some reason they feel the need to make up an alternative to the truth which is incredibly harmful to those people who are targets for these false stories and accusations. The government most certainly need to review Section 230 and alter it to make it so that harmful content isn’t circulated as prominently as it is now. In my discussion post, I mentioned the Energy and Commerce’s Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act, which is an action they are taking against Section 230 to push for reform.

Photo: WikiMedia Commons

Similarly, media privacy and security is a crucial part of media literacy. So many of us go on our phones or use our computers without realizing the vast amounts of data we are putting out into the world by simply opening an app or liking a post on Facebook. We are freely giving away so much information about ourselves on the internet and advertisers and marketing companies are making a lot of money off of our ignorance. The documentary with Shoshana Zuboff on surveillance capitalism, really brought this side of media to my attention more than ever before and it is incredibly eye opening. There are so many ways these “data brokers” are using our information including selling us products based on algorithms they create for each one of us. However, what struck me was the emotional vulnerability marketing scheme that benefits from making profits off of the emotions of individuals. These bots can tell when we are feeling sad or happy or angry, they are aware of these feelings and then tailor ads specifically for how we are feeling and even have the power to manipulate how we feel. It’s especially harmful to young individuals who are at a very influential age and having their phone dictate how they feel and think isn’t helping at all, it is deceptive and unfair to these young individuals. There need to be regulations in place to protect children from being exposed to any media that could be potentially harmful in any way and an example of these needed provisions could be seen in “Children’s Data and Privacy Online Growing up in a Digital Age.” by Sonia Livingstone, Mariya Stoilova, and Rishita Nandagiri.

Other aspects that are are disciplines of media literacy education is misinformation, disinformation and hoaxes. These all sound like kind of the same thing, but each is damaging in it’s own regard. Misinformation is information that is wrong, but was spread without any ill intent. An example of this would be Betty White’s 100th birthday being celebrated on the cover of People magazine that was sent to print before she died a few days before her 100th birthday (R.I.P Betty White.) Of course People magazine meant no ill will in this situation, but it was wrong. Another example is recently, with the Russian and Ukraine war, there has been a vast amount of misinformation circulating because of the immense volume of information going around about this topic. This article by The Guardian, social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok are turning out updates on the war every minute, but with no regulation there is no verifying these stories and misinformation is running a muck because of the speed in which stories are coming out is alarming. There needs to be regulation on these heavy topics and who can cover them because without it, algorithms in place to confirm our biases will only separate us as a country and insight more fear and violence and there will be no one to blame because of the social media platform’s inability to face consequences due to Section 230 as I discussed previously. Disinformation on the other hand is intentionally created with the intent to manipulate . This can be seen in political campaigns to sway voters to choose one candidate over an other by using fancy editing to make their opponent look bad by making false claims to make themselves look better to the public. The Darker Side of Media: Crash Course Media Literacy even talks about how political public relations agents and political figures will distract us with other stories and topics that distract us from others they don’t want to talk about. This is deliberate deception and can cause be dangerous when people aren’t able to get the full truth. Hoaxes like disinformation is used to manipulate people, but instead is created to persuade people that “topics unsupported by facts are true,” these are used specifically to spread false information in a way that they are portrayed to be true, but in fact are not supported at all with any verification. We all saw how the claim of a hoax can cause people to discredit research and science with the emergence of people claiming COVID-19 to be a hoax, but that is just because they truly did not trust the information that was out there warning the public of this deadly virus.

Photo: WikiMedia Commons

A conspiracy in connection to a hoax is used to explain why an event happened based on suspicion or coincidences that people believe proves something happened when there is no real evidence at all. All of thse cause people to mistrust credible media sources and polarize the country because there is no singular place to turn to for the truth any more which leads to mayhem and chaos in society. The only way we can break from this cycle is to break free of our confirmation bias and start expanding our knowledge by opening communication lines with people that have differing opinions than our own and actively getting news from other places besides ones that we always agree with. We need to broaden our point of view and start understanding all different perspectives when it comes to how we get our news.

Another aspect to consider when discussing media literacy is persuasion culture and advertising. As humans, we are easily persuaded by a lot of factors. Of those include how we are appealed to different types of media and why they appeal to us. Logos, pathos and ethos all have to do with different ways advertisers try to persuade us. Logos appeals to our logistics, the facts and statistics of a product to convince us that we are choosing the smartest option. Pathos refers to our emotions and how advertisers can tap into our feelings to make us buy something because it will make us feel a certain way. Ethos refers to the credibility of a product and why they are the best because they are the most trustworthy. Advertisers will use ethos by paying celebrities to promote products in hopes of persuading people that because their favorite celebrity uses this product, they also have to have it. This advertising ploy could be seen in the Got Milk? campaign by dairy farmers that started in the 1990s and lasted through the 2000s to persuade people to drink more milk. I remember walking through my school’s cafeteria and seeing posters of olympians and singers young kids looked up to doting the Got Milk? mustache, all to appeal to our ethos, we wanted to be just like them. But there are more techniques than that advertisers use to persude us, New Mexico Media Literacy Project goes on to ane more. The immergence of the influencer has hightened these pursuasion tactics so that there is just one person we go to that will give us all of the advertising we need with sponsored content and affiliate codes to promote products that they use. Advertisers are using these influencers as middle men so that they don’t have to do all the work of promoting a product themselves and instead place it in the hands of influencers who will basically sell themselves to promote these products. This is is damaging to the credibility of the individuals and those buying the products because they may be easily persuaded to buy a bad product when it is hyped up so much by someone who is claiming to love it and use it often when in reality they could actually hate it and are just saying the words the advertiser told them to, to make a profit and this can be examined more in the Forbes article, Influence and the Influencer. Persuading audiences through social identity.

Photo: WikiMedia Commons

The last aspect of media literacy I will cover is representation in media and the need to diversity to prevail in the current digital media landscape. We have come a long way in terms of represenation in media, in a UCLA report done in 2020, “The researchers analyzed 139 films with the highest gross global ticket receipts of 2018. They found that 41.0% of lead roles went to women and 26.6% to minorities. And among all acting roles in those films, 40.4% went to women and 30.9% to people of color. Things improved somewhat in most casting roles in 2019. Women had 44.1% of lead acting roles and 40.2% of the total cast in the 145 films from 2019 examined in the report; people of color made up 27.6% of lead actors and 32.7% of all film roles in 2019.” This is good, but we need these numbers to increase even more. We need more women directors, more minorities seeking leadership roles in media, more media content catered to miniorities and gender inclusivity. This interactive graph by Nielsen shows the exact percentage of the population across different demographics and who is over represented and who is under represented and across all of them, Native Americans are by far the most under represented in media. This needs to change, we need to write stories that cater to Native Americans and represent their experiences so that we don’t have another generation go by without seeing someone like them on the big screen. Diversity in media is essential and is what makes good journalism, being able to reach communities that are underserved is what broadens our point of view and our perspective. We need more representation in media to ensure that as a society we are covering all aspects of a story and giving a voice to those without one.

Photo: “Diversity in Media Ownership” by Free Press Pics

4 Comments

  1. oscarlbarinas

    I can relate to your reflection. Social media have become key in spreading a broad spectrum of political messages which can be even harmful (Colombian referendum in 2016) There’s so much to work on regarding media literacy and fact-checking.

    Liked by 1 person

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