Are you ready for the political news in 2016? I’m already sick of it! But it’s still important – so here are some pointers:
1. Remember that the news business is a business. Our news outlets are typically owned by profit-based, privately held corporations that exist to generate a profit – not inform or educate (although they do inform and educate, even unintentionally).
Since the news is dependent on advertising and subscription revenue, we will be shown the stories that are most likely to keep our attention. Policy issues? Not so much. Donald Trump making a controversial statement? You bet.
The 24/7 news business has a ton of time to fill. So we will hear the outlandish stories over and over – not because they’re important, but because they are compelling. It’s all about the ratings and the subscriptions.
2. Take up fact-checking as a sport or hobby. The days of politicians saying whatever they want are over, thankfully. Anyone with an internet connection can double-check claims made by a candidate.
You can also rely on sites like http://www.factcheck.org and http://www.politifact.com to verify claims or commercials. But even in that case, we should double-check those that do the double-checking!
3. Be aware of our selective exposure when it comes to news outlets. Try to get political news from as many sources as possible. Are many news outlets politically biased? Sure. But being aware of that is a big step toward media literacy.
We are more likely to choose our news sources based on those that will affirm our already-held beliefs. Live on the edge– consume some political news from a source you would not normally ever consider. We’ll never learn anything new in an echo chamber.
4. Notice the role that visual images play in the construction of political messages. We live in a visual culture now, not so much a literate one. And our brains can process images much faster than they can process words. But visual images can also cause emotional a wide range of emotional responses.
Visually de-construct campaign events. Why is the podium where it is? Why are people staged behind the speaker as well as in front? What role do balloons, banners and signs play? What colors are typically used?
Photo by Adam Aigner-Terworgy 2012
5. Be discerning about political photos, facts and memes shared on social media. Many images or memes are shared and re-Tweeted even though they are clearly misleading or downright lies. These images are easy to create, and if they look credible, will get passed along without a second thought.
Even if a meme or image will benefit a favored candidate, a responsible digital citizen would still verify its authenticity before passing along. That can be done through fact-checking sites or Google Reverse Image Search.
A compelling photo representing one claim or event might actually be a photo – but from a different year or location.
The photo above has also been circulated claiming it depicts a “terrorist attack on Christians two days after Paris”. The photo, however, was actually taken after a fuel tanker overturned and exploded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010.
Activate your internal BS detectors, everyone!
Joseph de Maistre said “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” Each society get the news it deserves. It’s time for us to critically evaluate the news we consume – and it’s never more important than during an election season.
Our democracy depends on it.