Before she launched into the topic of how to navigate the jungle of information on the Internet, author and media literacy instructor Julie Smith provided the audience some context.
“We need to define what we’re talking about,” the Webster University teacher said. “There’s a difference between misinformation and disinformation. They are similar in that both are harmful, but misinformation is not necessarily deliberate.”
Smith, author of “Master the Media: How Teaching Media Literacy Can Save Our Plugged-in World,” spoke at Franklin & Marshall College’s March 5 Common Hour, a community discussion every Thursday classes are in session during the semester.
She described online bots, shallow fakes, deep fakes, and how our biases allow us to be deceived by fake news. Smith described her conservative sister-in-law who “absolutely loves and trusts” Fox News and her liberal sister-in-law who “absolutely loves and trusts” MSNBC.
“This is because we are living in era of ‘pulled news’ rather than ‘pushed news,’” Smith said.
Years ago, media choices were limited to a small number of national newspapers and television news broadcast stations that “pushed” their news to essentially a general audience, but today, anyone can create content and post it on the Internet, she said.
“We have thousands of media outlets to choose from and we ‘pull’ the news that we like,” Smith said. “We tend to congregate with people who think, feel, believe and vote the way we do, so we are rarely exposed to messages that we disagree with or that make us uncomfortable. We are in an ideological bubble.”
A significant number of Internet media outlets produce disinformation for profit and/or mischief, Smith said, and showed examples of their fake images, some difficult to discern. One authentic-looking image was of England’s Queen Elizabeth with the news headline that she died.
That image was from a class assignment that one of Smith’s students created.
“He said this assignment scared him because he felt so powerful,” she said.
Smith’s advice to combat online disinformation is to think for yourself, always be skeptical, and check other sources to determine accuracy and verify credibility.
“The biggest issue of all is that we tend to think that messages we like are automatically credible because we like them,” she said. “We see messages through rose-colored glasses.”
Smith provided a list of sites that verify accurate information and images: