Fake news is everywhere, so we hear. In a stinging criticism of the mainstream media, president Trump tweeted on Feb. 17, “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
What fake new is Mr. Trump referring to? Just a few examples: The news of numbers of people at the inauguration? Fake news. Negative poll results saying that Americans approval ratings of Trump are plummeting? Fake news. Trump's collusion with the Kremlin? Fake news. CNN's report on anything whatsoever? Fake news.
What is fake news anyway? Fake news is news that is untethered to the facts of what's really going on, and to what really happened. Fake news is not tied to the purpose of informing the public, passing along factual information. No one would argue that many internet sites are purveyors of fake news, whether it's announcing Meryl Streep's marriage to Robert Redford, or Betty White's false demise. But social media is not what President Trump is talking about. And he's not talking about Fox News either. When Trump calls news fake, he is implying that the new media isn't serving the public good, that the news is falsified to serve the news' agencies own purpose.
Since freedom of the press and our news media is the bedrock of our democracy, the President's pronouncements are unsettling. But sifting fact from fiction in news stories may not be as easy as it looks. Studies in psychology that remind us that perception is a reality. Everyone perceives the same thing differently through their own unique view of the world and their own unique lens. As a nation that is intellectually and emotionally polarized as never before, the sheer facts of public discourse may not be easy to spot. CNN and Fox speak different languages, they think and reason differently; they draw upon differing assumptions of right and wrong.
But facts are still facts. It's the lens we see through, the context that differs. So how do we teach young people to separate fact from fiction? Or even fact from context? Our Girls Inc. of New York City Media Literacy program does exactly that.
There is a civic engagement component through which girls participate in public dialogue around issues important to them via TV interviews, different newspapers, radio and the internet. These days that's about xenophobia, immigration, and sexual harassment. In addition, girls explore the business side of media, learning about profitability, advertising, and commercial interests, as well as the fundamental importance of the media to democracy.
Media Literacy also gives girls real world practice in deconstructing obvious and hidden media messages and questioning the media’s focus. Girls learn to consider the relevance of news media, and explore the variety of media and learn how to influence the media by communicating their opinions to those in power.
Media Literacy involves girls not only in analyzing messages, but also changing the messages. Girls create and edit storyboards for music videos and reality TV programs, conduct audits of newspapers and magazines for advertising content, for equity in gender coverage, and political coverage and consider the biases in various news sources, political campaign slogans, and materials.
Finally, it teaches girls to examine how the media depicts girls and women in the following ways: They conduct content analyses of TV programming where sex is portrayed as risk-free, and that most people think about and have sex frequently without much concern for health, love, or the stability of the relationship. They review an overwhelming majority of research showing that media violence engenders intense fear, and may influence violent behavior.
They examine research that has found alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, or over-the-counter or prescription medicines depicted in nearly all major films, and many of these films do not portray consequences of use.
Teaching girls that they don't have to "buy into" how others define them may be more important to their futures than math. It's vital to their very core. Recently ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. Eating disorders among teens are rampant.
One of the most exciting developments in recent media culture has been the appearance of 'girl power', featuring strong women as lead actors and outrageously strong smart and bold. But that too can boomerang. Girls might think they fail if they're not tough and independent with perfect make-up and six-inch heels!
When all is said and done, when media messages are parsed for their pop cultural twists and spins, the message of GINYC Media Literacy course is simple: to thine own self-be true.