Nowadays, we are increasingly frustrated by this notion that news literacy is about identifying online mis/disinformation. Ever since “fake news” became a buzzword all over the world, many people equate news literacy to hoax debunking — but that is only a small part of what news literacy is about.
Understanding what is false and learning how to spot it are, of course, a great first step to become “more news literate,” but such educational instructions could only raise awareness for easily detectable fake or manipulation.
Our information space is much messier than a simple true-or-false dichotomy or hero-vs-villain narratives. Journalists do not present news to the audience as a simple list of facts. If we see the newsmakers (or people in the news) as characters, and the quotes from the sources as dialogues, what we have is a narrative that is a lot like any other storytelling.
“Facts” in news reports can be deceptive. They are often wrapped with observations, descriptions, comments, opinions, analyses, speculations, inferences, sentiments, and other types of information that cannot be checked or vetted. Besides, journalists face a wide range of limitations from time constraints to governmental threats when they deliver news, especially in our part of the world, Asia.
We all need to learn how to make sense of the news beyond mis/disinformation with critical eyes. But unless taught cautiously, critical thinking potentially fosters grave doubts about the media and encourages a mindset that naturally makes people prone to apathy, disengagement, and even cynicism (“hey, if everyone has an agenda and frames the message in a self-serving manner, no information or news is trustworthy, right?”).
It could also encourage people to cherry-pick facts and believe conspiracy theories (“well, nobody tells or knows the truth; so, the “real” truth must be hidden in the dark, yeah?”). Research has shown that poorly-taught critical thinking skills could make people overconfident as well (“Now I know the truth but everyone else doesn’t see it. I am smarter!”)
For us, news literacy should be about how to identify and understand quality information. Spotting false and doubting questionable news reports is one thing, but deciding what’s trustworthy and why is the real challenge.
Critical thinking also needs to be reflectively applied to examine ourselves to comprehend how we form our thoughts and behaviors from news reports.
News literacy is about recognizing our own cognitive limitations, biases, and logical flaws. Developing an ability to identify reliable, actionable information — not just in democracy but also under authoritarian systems — helps us navigate through the abundance of misinformation and disinformation in the long run.
Strapline is our renewed effort to promote a healthy dose of skepticism coupled with self-reflective, critical thinking mindset — with practical digital proficiency.
Fact-checking techniques and sufficient knowledge of computer algorithms, social media bots, online trolls, censorship mechanism, digital economy, and other related fields are all part of our target topics.
Our goal is not just discussing how to avoid getting misled or tricked by bogus claims and manipulated content, but also exploring the methods to discern actionable information in news reports.
Our focus is primarily on news literacy in Asia but we believe our content could resonate in many other countries that are having similar issues.
Originally published at strapline.org on August 21, 2018.