Media Literacy Might be Key to Planetary Survival

November 22, 2018


True? or False? Consider the source, and compare to others.

Seriously, people, if you have not read the piece below in the Washington Post, drop everything and do so now – I’ll wait.

Washington Post:

A new message popped onto Blair’s screen from a friend who helped with his website. “What viral insanity should we spread this morning?” the friend asked.

“The more extreme we become, the more people believe it,” Blair replied.

He had launched his new website on Facebook during the 2016 presidential campaign as a practical joke among friends — a political satire site started by Blair and a few other liberal bloggers who wanted to make fun of what they considered to be extremist ideas spreading throughout the far right. In the last two years on his page, America’s Last Line of Defense, Blair had made up stories about California instituting sharia, former president Bill Clinton becoming a serial killer, undocumented immigrants defacing Mount Rushmore, and former president Barack Obama dodging the Vietnam draft when he was 9. “Share if you’re outraged!” his posts often read, and thousands of people on Facebook had clicked “like” and then “share,” most of whom did not recognize his posts as satire. Instead, Blair’s page had become one of the most popular on Facebook among Trump-supporting conservatives over 55.

“Nothing on this page is real,” read one of the 14 disclaimers on Blair’s site, and yet in the America of 2018 his stories had become real, reinforcing people’s biases, spreading onto Macedonian and Russian fake news sites, amassing an audience of as many 6 million visitors each month who thought his posts were factual. What Blair had first conceived of as an elaborate joke was beginning to reveal something darker. “No matter how racist, how bigoted, how offensive, how obviously fake we get, people keep coming back,” Blair once wrote, on his own personal Facebook page. “Where is the edge? Is there ever a point where people realize they’re being fed garbage and decide to return to reality?”

Brian Stelter on Twitter:

“If you hate the media, you’re more likely to be fooled by a fake headline.” AND you’re more likely “to confuse news and opinion.” But you’re ALSO more likely to think you never need any help finding accurate info


Nieman Lab:

Don’t like the media? Think it’s all “lies” or “fake”? Then you’re probably not as good at reading the news as your less perpetually annoyed peers.

That’s one finding from a new study from the News Co/Lab at Arizona State, in collaboration with the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas. Those who have negative opinions of the news media are less likely to spot a fake headline, less likely to differentiate between news and opinion — but more confident in their ability to find the information they need online.


The study surveyed 4,854 people in three cities — Kansas City, Fresno, and Macon, Georgia — and asked them what was the first word that came to mind when they saw the word “news.” About 62 percent responded with something negative — “fake,” “lies,” “untrustworthy,” and “BS” were the sample responses given, though one imagines the researchers have a Word doc somewhere with some even more vigorous adjectives. The remaining 38 percent responded with something positive or neutral (like “factual”).

That divide — a positive or negative reaction to “news” — mapped onto a number of other elements the researchers surveyed.

For instance, people were given three at least somewhat plausible headlines and ledes that might appear in their local newspaper. Two were real; one was fake. Those with positive attitudes fared better in figuring out which was which. In Kansas City, 82 percent of the half-glass-full types figured out which was fake, versus only 69 percent of the half-glass-empties. (The fake headline? “New study: Nearly half the nation’s scientists now reject evolution.”)

Another question asked people to categorize stories as news, opinion, analysis, or sponsored content. The negatives were less likely than the positives to correctly identify the news — though not by a super-wide margin, 74 percent to 80 percent.

So do the people who are bad at reading the news know they’re bad at it? Not so much. Another question asked which of these best described them:

— “I do not need help finding the information I need online.”
— “I could occasionally use some help in finding the information I need online.”
— “I frequently need help finding the information I need online.”

Those with negative reactions to the word “news” were less likely to say they ever needed help (34 percent) than those with positive or neutral reactions (42 percent).

Beyond all that, the report — by Gina Masullo Chen, Caroline Murray, Eric Newton, Dan Gillmor, Kristy Roschke, and Natalie Jomini Stroud, most of whose names longtime Nieman Lab readers will recognize — confirms a number of findings other studies have also found.

Does education make you more able to detect a fake headline? Yes. College grads sussed it out at a higher rate (68 percent) than those with less than a college degree (57 percent).

Age and income? Yes, people aged 65 and up were somewhat less likely to identify the fake headline than those 18 to 64 (60 percent vs. 66 percent). And those making over $150K were better at it than those making less than $30K (71 percent vs. 54 percent).

How about partisan identity? In Kansas City and Macon, Democrats were more likely to pick out the fake than Republicans — by a +12 margin in K.C. and +18 in Macon. (In Fresno, interestingly, there was no statistically significant difference between the parties.)

Of course, all of these factors — partisan identity, age, income, education, dislike of the media — overlap and intersect in a number of ways, so it’s harder to pin the credit/blame on any one. (As you might expect given 2018, Democrats were much less likely to use a negative word to describe news than Republicans — 26 percent vs. 75 percent.)

“We’re seeing a divide in news literacy among specific groups that may diminish their ability to fully understand what’s happening in the world,” said Chen, a past Nieman Lab contributor.



Media Matters:

A prominent fake news website whose Facebook page has been verified by Facebook and which has been accused by experts of being a Russian proxy has revived the debunked fake news conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate” in a new article. The article has also been promoted by Michael Flynn Jr., who played a role in generating significant exposure for the first iteration of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory.

On November 4, YourNewsWire published an article headlined “NYPD: Hillary Clinton ‘Pedophile Sex Tape’ About To Be Released.” The article claimed that the New York Police Department had “confirmed that a ‘sickening’ pedophile sex tape featuring Hillary Clinton is about to be released to the public” that depicts “Clinton engaging in a sexual act with her aide Huma Abedin and an underage girl.” The article, which features a photo of Clinton eating pizza, cites a Right Wing Watch article about Liz Crokin, a columnist known for pushing conspiracy theories surrounding slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and who called the October Las Vegas mass shooting a “false flag,” for the claim.



8 Responses to “Media Literacy Might be Key to Planetary Survival”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Media Literacy Might be Key to Planetary Survival?

    Reread this piece and rethink that title. Then consider calling it “Media Illiteracy Might be Key to Planetary Destruction” I guess on this day of thanksgiving we should be grateful that it’s not worse than it is, but it’s pretty disturbing.

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    Fake news are being shared and liked ten times faster than real news. In the times of internet a shocking reality.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yes, and the Russians are behind much of the fake news and disinformation. Read “House of Trump House of Putin” for some disturbing details about how the Russians have owned Trump for 30 years and have undermined our government.

  3. indy222 Says:

    And 10x is 10x the $$$$ to FB and others – so how interested are they going to be in stopping it? The pursuit of relative status via money will “kill us all” (to quote Sarah Connor).

  4. botterd Says:

    Problem is the world is full of conspiracy (starting at the next re-organization), so it’s always hard to tell whether you are hearing innuendo or reality, and is more often than not, impossible without investigation, but that avenue is not always open. Just saying something is a conspiracy does not make it false.

    Add to the mix that news outlets sensationalize, jump the gun, make mistakes, or sometimes dessiminate untruthful views, making them “trusted” sources that you cannot fully trust. Of course there is a lot of shtuff that one can reliabliy sift through, but on the whole, we shouldn’t exaggerate how easy it is to separate out the BS.

  5. The MSM has no interest in being educated – it will always go with the controversial and attention getting as that’s what makes money. Good news doesn’t sell as it were.

  6. grindupbaker Says:

    We got This Is That. It’s better than your rubbish. I mean it’s better rubbish than your rubbish.

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