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Fake news is a real thing ... no matter who proclaims it. When I was studying to become a journalist as an undergrad, there were only the Big Three network TV newscasts, AM radio news, and a proliferation of print newspapers and news magazines. In my coursework even then, we explored different media perspectives and I particularly devoured a book called "News: A Consumer's Guide."
Today, with instantaneous (and often instantaneously erroneous) news, we as consumers need a guide more than ever.
Often, real-time as-it-happens news is wrong primarily because it's incomplete. But once the information is out there, it takes on a life of its own ... retweets, viral videos, Instagram posts and Facebook Live shared over and over and over again, with streams of comments that continue to spawn wildfires long after the initial blaze is contained.
Most of us recognize this type of false news as the just-too-soon news it actually is. What we as informed media consumers need to guard against is the genuine fake news, perpetuated with innuendo and unfounded theories, and often written and planted for publication with full knowledge that it's simply not true (which you won't find in reputable publications online or in print, such as in these pages).
But, I hear some of you ask, how do I know what is a reputable publication? One way is to acquire media and information literacy (MIL). Yes, this is a real thing too - "Media and Information Literacy: Reinforcing Human Rights, Countering Radicalization and Extremism," as reported in a publication of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the UN Alliance for Civilizations, and the Global Alliance for Partnerships on Media and Information Literacy.
Of the five MIL laws, I particularly gravitate to Laws 1, 3 and 5. Law 1 states that information, communication, libraries, media, technology, the internet and other forms of information providers are for use in critical civic engagement, and that they are equal in stature. None is more relevant that the other. So, basically, 140 characters shot off in the wee hours of the morning don't carry any more weight, than, say, the New York Times editorial page. (One year ago, I would have phrased that sentence in the reverse.)
We all know - or should know - Law 3, which reminds us that information, knowledge, and messages are not always value neutral, or always independent of biases. We do naturally gravitate to news outlets that support our own cognitive biases, and thus tend to believe even the most outlandish statements from the side with which we agree. So for true media and information literacy, I recommend checking out a section in the New York Times that presents reporting and opinion from both ends of the political spectrum.
It never hurts to be informed, which leads me to Law 5: Media and information literacy is not acquired all at once. It is a lived and dynamic experience, a process that serves us well as we wend our ways tvhrough the glut of too-soon, too-raw and too-wrong information that bombards us daily.
We can swallow what we are fed, or we can use our intellect, our intuition and our informed decision-making to select a credible, authentic and reputable diet of news.
Andrea Doray is a writer who reminds us that although both are journalism, there is a difference between news reporting and opinion. This column is opinion journalism. Contact her at email@example.com.
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