22nd January 2024
Avoidance, Echo Chambers and Social Media: Four Big Challenges To News Literacy

As digital media continues to become a bigger and bigger part of our everyday lives, it’s more important than ever to know how to use it, with news and information coming at us from all angles.

Processing it responsibly allows us to make sense of the world critically and accurately, without being distracted or misled by false information or content that pursues private interests under the disguise of news.

Impress’ News Literacy Report found that higher levels of news literacy are linked to greater trust in the media. Learning how to use the news and identify quality content means that you can make sense of how the news is made, making it easier to spot poor standards, misinformation, and clickbait. This collection of skills can be defined as news literacy.

This post looks at the challenges to news literacy today, and covers some of the solutions we can adopt to tackle them.

News overload and avoidance

Staying informed about the world is useful and practical, from important local information to national events of global significance. This can have negative effects, however, when we push our mental capacity beyond its own limits. Infinite scrolling and frictionless social media makes it easy to do this without even noticing.

Doomscrolling endless news feeds is partly a consequence of natural, psychological tendencies although it can lead to stress, depression and anxiety. This article, at Scientific American, discusses how an over-abundance of information online makes it easier for fake news to spread. Social media sites often use algorithms to cherry-pick content for users, which compounds cognitive biases.

It can be difficult to find the right balance between the extreme of news overload on one hand, and the opposite extreme of digital detox on the other. Digital detox is useful from time to time, but can be difficult to maintain when our society relies so heavily on digital devices for basic purposes. News avoidance is increasingly a big problem for journalists and news publishers looking to maintain their audience.

If you can strike a balance that keeps you well informed, while setting basic time limits on each news ‘session’, you can avoid news overload without losing the benefits of keeping informed about the world.

Digital manipulation

Social media has long been criticised for promoting unrealistic body standards and creating false impressions of aspirational lifestyles, particularly among younger users. The latest Google Pixel advert centres around its AI tools and their ability to manipulate images of real events. While deepfakes advance and continue to cause concern around the world, digital manipulation of photos has been around for years.

This creates problems for news literacy as it makes it difficult to tell accurate images apart from manipulated ones. As with all news content, from video to text, finding or checking the source – whether that’s the author, photographer, or publication – should always be a top priority when it comes to verifying its authenticity.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the content is 100% reliable, but it can help filter out some of the most obvious misleading content. On social media, it is also important to remember that most content tends to represent idealised versions of a lifestyle, and should rarely be taken as totally accurate representations.

Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers

Using the news to inform yourself is meant to give you an accurate representation of the world. This is difficult in a landscape where social media algorithms contain your news experiences within ‘filter bubbles’ and echo chambers. This means that you are only likely to see or come across news content that already fits with your worldview and those around you, making it difficult to expand your news use.

Being selective about where you get your news from means that you can avoid falling into social media traps that can make it seem as if little exists outside your own networks. This can mean actively seeking out the news directly from credible sources, or taking your social media feeds with a pinch of salt.

Always be aware of the context in which your news has reached you, and remember to look for the Impress trustmark to verify that the creator of that news has signed up to independent, recognised standards of journalism.

Different Types of ‘Fake News’

Identifying fake news would be easier if there was only one type of inaccurate information. Unfortunately, there is a lot more than one. There are also many motivations for spreading it, from promoting a political agenda to simply driving traffic to a website.

Because it has proven to be a beneficial asset to so many in recent years, sadly, it is not going anywhere any time soon.

But there are steps you can take to avoid falling for fake news, including scrutinising the author of the piece and any agendas the publisher may have on certain issues.

What can you do next?

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