Since Russia’s military invasion in Ukraine on February, the Kremlin government has stepped up its propaganda efforts to spread a deluge of misinformation aimed at its own citizens. To tighten the screws and gain total control, the country has banned Facebook, Twitter and other news websites, and are criminalizing their own people who do not abide by new media laws.
Independent media groups were forced to close or divert programs to carry pro-Russia news. Citizens have little to almost no access to information from around the world, relying solely on news from the state media and the Russian Ministry of Defence.
Most of us, however, have direct access to news from multiple media sources across the globe. Newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, cable news networks, independent media, blogs, websites, videos and social media. Through these go-to sources we stay updated on current affairs and other relevant news. However, too much news can be overwhelming.
Within the media industry, there is competition between mainstream, independent and digital media. While most news tout objectivity, opinions and biases are conveniently weaved into the stories.
With the 24/7 news cycle, stories roll out like rapid fire rounds. Inundated with voracious information, it is hard for readers and viewers to keep up, let alone absorb and retain content. We tend to be influenced, and are unknowingly warped into the media’s sphere of influence, which can be dangerous.
How can we avoid media traps that affect and influence our thinking?
We share some key media literacy tips to help you recognize the bias in news stories and discern fake news and propaganda.
- Headlines do not present the whole story: Due to the influx of media sources, headlines are typically written as clickbaits to entice or shock people to draw them in. Don’t get carried away! Make it a point to read the entire story to get the full picture.
- Read and critique: As you read content, formulate questions in your head to figure out if all aspects of the story are covered. Start with the basic 5Ws and 1H to formulate your own critical thinking.
- Figure out the motivation behind news stories: Like headlines, news content can be written or presented in a style that evokes emotional responses or influence readers to behave or take action in a certain manner. The extreme and unfavourable response could impact honest discourse, create confusion, and lead to protests and rowdiness among the public.
- Actively search for accurate information: This should take precedence over giving in to false information. Separate facts from opinions, be alert to conspiracy theories and inconsistencies in any recurring stories. For any breaking news story, allow time for complete details to be presented and false claims to be refuted.
- Beware of recycled content: Quotes, figures, photos and videos from published content can be reused as new stories to spark controversy or exaggeration to increase viewership and engagement rates.
- Widen your media sources: Do not rely on one media source to get your news. Widen your perspective by tuning in to other media sources. This also allows for cross-checking across multiple platforms to check the validity of any information, facts and figures.
Remember, media gatekeepers no longer have the power to control the flow of information. It’s up to us, as readers and consumers, to double and triple check the authenticity and validity of the content from the various media sources – to spot discrepancies, and avoid misinformation, disinformation and propaganda.