It is no secret that there is a polarizing political atmosphere in the U.S. Often there is a palpable physical conflict, seemingly about to erupt, when two every-day citizens are discussing politics.  Many times one can overhear people discussing politics appeal to the fallacy that “everybody is entitled to an opinion.” Although true, that statement does not make ones opinion true.  

In many circles, I have found that people will no longer discuss politics for fear of losing a relationship. The political atmosphere has become so polarizing that family members are no longer speaking to one another. Longtime friends are cutting ties on Social Media and in person. Boyfriend and girlfriend (sometimes husband and wife) are separating and finding different walks of life because of politics. 

My focus today is not about a people divided. It is more about where people receive their information to form these opinions. Researchers have concluded that more and more people receive their everyday news from social media sites, i.e. Facebook, Twitter and the myriad of others out there.  

This is a shift from the traditional broadcast news media and newspapers that dominated the 20th century. This is an important thing to highlight and gets me to my first point. 

Media literacy, what is it?

Americans are the most inundated population on the planet in terms of media consumption. We as a people spend more time with a screen in our face than any other populace. There is a multitude of ways to receive media at home, in the car or on the go. It is dire that we understand this media.  

Academic W. James Power and author of the textbook, Media Literacy describes media literacy as “a set of perspectives that we actively use to expose ourselves to the mass media to interpret the meaning of the messages we encounter; media literacy is multidimensional, consisting of cognitive, emotional, aesthetic, and moral dimensions; and media literacy is a continuum, not a category.”

Some of you may be reading this and think I am spouting common sense. Well, if you are like me then you are tired of combatting the spread of bad media and false media online.  

I am tired of pointing out sensationalized cable-news media to people sharing the stories on social media and showing how it isn’t “fake news.” If you are like me, then you may be tire of the current president spouting “fake-news” comments and damaging professional journalism because consumers of the media fail to realize what he is saying is a misnomer. This leads me to my second point.

Why do we need media literacy?

Media, in this definition, does not mean the news. Media is the plural form of medium and, in this context, medium is defined as the device or transmission vehicle to distribute information. This includes, but is not limited to, newspapers, magazines, movies, television shows, news media, books and etc. etc. It is important that one understands this.  

So who needs to be taught media literacy? 

Ideally, every citizen of the U.S. needs to know this. It is, however, unrealistic to think that we can enroll adults and seniors in media literacy classes. For now, we as a people will have to be okay with grandma’s post supporting a political candidate for a fallacious reason.  

One can begin to put pressure on local educators and lawmakers to get media literacy classes taught in middle and high schools. The sooner media consumers know this information the better critical thinkers they will be when consuming the media.  

Americans are the most inundated population with media. From advertisements, entertainment, information or interaction, we as a population love the media. It is about time we stop letting it divide us.