Today anyone with a smartphone or a laptop can spread information and video around the world immediately.
This new-found power can play a vital role in our understanding of events in places that have been cut off from traditional journalism.
As in Syria where the effects of the violent civil war are captured by citizens who are often trapped behind the firing line. In this digital age, it is nearly impossible for tyrants to mask their cruelty and anyone can speak about oppression to a global audience.
But digitalization has a dark side. Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, often release information to the public that has not been verified, or long before a legitimate news organization would release it. So, it is possible for erroneous information to spread quickly.
Take the case of Veerender Jubbal. Several European news outlets named the Canadian Sikh as a possible suspect for the November 2015 Paris terror attack. They even published a photo of him wearing a suicide bomber vest.
But Mr. Jubbal was completely innocent. Someone had manipulated a photo on his Facebook page and posted it on social media as a joke. It quickly spread, causing Mr. Jubbal to suffer extreme damage to his reputation and a lot of emotional distress.
This is a dramatic example but think about it. How many times have you fallen for click bait -- those deceptive ads that lure you to click with gossip or untrue information? For example, those ads that imply a famous celebrity has died or suffered a terrible tragedy?
Unlike traditional journalism, social media does not have an obligation to the truth. Its users are its reporters, and they are accountable to no one.
A smart news consumer is always aware of this discrepancy between traditional media and social media.
Exercising news literacy is a skill like any other skill. It requires thoughtful concentration and consideration. A literate news consumer uses the tools we have outlined to evaluate the mounds of information we encounter every minute of every day.
This lesson is based on the News Literacy class at the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University. For more on how to become a news literate citizen, go to The Center for News Literacy.
Words in This Story
tyrant – n. a ruler who has complete power over a country and who is cruel and unfair
cruelty – n. a desire to cause others to suffer : the quality or state of being cruel
legitimate – adj. allowed according to rules or laws
erroneous – adj. not correct
manipulate – v. to deal with or control (someone or something) in a clever and usually unfair or selfish way
reputation – n. the common opinion that people have about someone or something
distress – n. suffering that affects the mind or body
lure – v. to cause or persuade (a person or an animal) to go somewhere or to do something by offering some pleasure or gain
gossip – n. information about the behavior and personal lives of other people
obligation – n. something that you must do because of a law, rule, promise, etc.
discrepancy – n. a difference especially between things that should be the same