thinking critically about the media we see

Growing up, I was called ‘gullible’ a time or two. If someone I knew and trusted told me something, I believed it was true. Reflecting on this now, I like to think this stems from my personal value of honesty and my lack of understanding for deceit. I would never think to purposely lie to or fool someone, so I never expected others to do that to me.

Here’s an interesting little anecdote to showcase this:

Did anyone else take Anthropology 100 while at the University of Regina? Well, being a big fan of the TV show “Bones” as a teenager, I jumped at the chance to take an Anthropology class during my undergrad degree. I still vividly remember my experience with one of the readings from that course: Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.

If you’re not familiar with it, this short article by Horace Miner is about a mysterious tribe of people who enact bizarre rituals relating to their outward appearance. In ANTH 100, we were asked to read the article and write a response to it. I still remember reading the article and thinking: “Some of these things are a bit extreme, but I also see similarities to things we do in our culture.”

SPOILER ALERT: Nacirema is “American” spelled backwards, and this article is cleverly written about practices that take place in our Western culture. The purpose of the article was to highlight how any culture can seem bizarre when written about using distancing terminology that makes it sound foreign and exotic. So, while I was on the right track to sniffing out the hidden answer, this is a prime example of a time when I was duped by my belief that everything I read is written honestly.

Though I had the naive belief that others wouldn’t deceive me, that is, unfortunately, not how the world works. Herein lies the importance of viewing everything with a critical eye and questioning the things we read and view (whether in real life or online).

I like to think that I have made some progress in thinking critically since my high school or university days (maybe ANTH 100 made me somewhat of an untrusting skeptic?). However, before this course, I didn’t really use any specific strategies to critically view media. I would sometimes get a gut feeling that something might not be true if it sounded fishy, and I had heard the terms clickbait and fake news, but that was about the extent of it.

This is probably why the last two weeks of videos and articles for Topic D and Topic E have been so interesting to me and had me taking copious amounts of notes: I didn’t have any critical media viewing skills or strategies. Since engaging in this learning the past few weeks, I have noticed myself:

To conclude my post this week, here are a few things I’ve realized around this topic:

  • we need to expose young kids to many opportunities to ‘sniff out’ things that might not be true (if little Kara had had some prompted chances to discern factual from fake, it might have saved me some embarrassment from getting fooled a time or two)
  • because we are bombarded by media messages and content on a daily basis, this can lead to us turning off our brains and not thinking critically about things when we are stuck in the endless scroll. Slow down and pause to give your mind time to actually consider if something is true. Ask yourself what the intent behind that message might be
  • because I am not a news-watcher, I also need to use these critical skills in real life (for example, if someone tells me about something they heard on the news during a face-to-face conversation). I cannot assume anything I am told is true until I have looked it up and confirmed its legitimacy for myself

Do you have any tried and true tips for viewing media critically? Have you ever been fooled by an untrue message? What strategies or activities do you use with students to teach them these skills?

Until next time,

-KKF

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3 thoughts on “thinking critically about the media we see

  1. Thankyou for sharing an article about Anthropology, will surely look forward to read about it. To be honest, I have never thought of using my critical thinkers lens while reading about news. I use to believe so many TikTok Videos and Insta Reels and never checked the actual source and real information or fact about the news. From past two weeks, while reading anything new I am checking the good sources before getting into any decision or sharing it with others. So far, I have seen Common Sense Education is providing great lesson plans and resources for learning and teaching Digital Citizenship and Media literacy.

  2. Oh yes… I was also the one who used to believe everything that was posted on the internet. After a few years of using digital platforms for reading news, I came across many news/headlines which I thought were genuine but they were not… being pandemic/vaccinations on the top of my list… Now, whenever possible I also try to research the news that I sense as misinformation.

  3. Thanks for sharing your early experience in university. I too had an experience like the one you mentioned in my English 110 class, where a prof shared a deeply moving story, and in the end threw the symbol that made him recollect the story across the room as if it didn’t matter. I remember being so upset, and him saying Kelly, it was just a story I made up. I was so angry that he would play with our emotions, and realized really quickly that thinking critically about what was being told to us was important.

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