Information Illiteracy in the Internet Age

Someone on my Facebook feed posted this video of a “thugs” stopping an ambulance at the cancelled Trump rally. There was no additional evidence or facts. Just a video of black people “stopping” an ambulance and the assumption that there was someone sick in there or they were on their way to a sick person. Which may or may not be true. So I looked it up.

The only sources I could find were right wing, conservative media outlets which, by their very nature, are bias and terrible sources for news. So I am left still in the dark around what was going on in that video which I will not be sharing.

The reason why I am sharing this story however is because it dawned on me that the person who shared the video and the people who liked and commented on it, likely did no research and if they had they would have served up on of those bias sites as proof that these people were thugs and hurting some nameless infirm person. Which long story short is today’s topic: In 2016 we are flooded with information but most people are information illiterate.

Like most things centered around reading and digesting information, the concept of information literacy is an academic one because prior to the modern times we live in, information was funneled through very limited means. Now, we all have free access to a wealth of information but not many people really know how to vet it.

Information literacy is a set of skills that help you find and evaluate information. It is more than being able to Google something (although that is some part of it), it is also being able to look at a source and determine whether or not it is reliable.

This isn’t a terribly important skill set when dealing with something like celebrity gossip. It doesn’t really matter whether or not so and so is really getting a divorce or is pregnant. Those facts or fallacies do not impact anyone’s actual lives but there are many cases that have much more impact.

The lack of information literacy shows strongest in the way that we share things on social media. Sometimes it’s just a silly viral story about something gross someone found in their fast food. Sometimes its misinformation about refuges or dangerous health “advice”.

Because people do not take the time to engage in simple steps to check what they are sharing, they fuel these sorts of viral hurricanes of bad information. They can’t tell opinion from fact in many cases and treat them both as if they are interchangeable.

This is happening not because people are dumb but because they simply do not have any background in information literacy. We have been conditioned to believe that media, be it TV, newspaper, or internet, has already done the leg work for us which is why the joke that “it’s on the internet, it must be true” is still relevant. Because so many people haven’t realized that this is NOT true!

The nature of the 24 hour news cycle means that there is a lot of information out there and a lot of it is nonsense. A lot of it is opinion masquerading as fact or entertainment pretending to be news. It’s awesome that people have so much access now but the cost of that is that you have to do your own legwork.

It is irresponsible to just post things blindly. It is up to all of us to take a few lessons in information literacy. But for starters, just make it a habit to question things before you hit share. If the story is too salacious or fits too perfectly into one narrative, it’s probably not the whole tale. Real life is messy and complicated, it doesn’t fit perfectly into a 250 word article.

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One thought on “Information Illiteracy in the Internet Age

  1. cihlleonee says:

    So true, something I have been thinking about a lot in the last few months. I have this interesting game I play with myself: whenever I post or “share” an article, especially if it is quite lengthy, I see how long it takes for people to “like” it. Usually, I have at least 5 way before anyone could have actually read it.

    An important insight from your post: “they can’t tell opinion from fact…and treat them as if they’re interchangeable”

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