By Amy McNeilage

A GENERATION ago, most people learnt about the news from a handful of places: they read it in a newspaper, saw it on television or heard it on the radio.

The internet changed all that. Today most Australians have news stories at the tips of their fingers.

And recent surveys show that young people are more likely to get their news from social media.

Look at things carefully

The changes have brought a lot of good things but also some big challenges.

Finding information has never been easier, but it’s hard to know what to trust, especially with fake news and hidden advertising becoming more common and more crafty.

Media literacy means looking carefully at the information you get. It involves knowing the difference between reliable and unreliable sources, fact-checking claims, and being able to spot fake news and advertisements.

Developing these skills is an important part of being an engaged and responsible citizen in the 21st century.

So what can you trust?

Journalists who work for well-known newspapers, TV, and radio stations such as the ABC, The Australian or Nine News must follow a code of ethics, which is a list of rules about what is and isn’t fair and honest reporting.

On the internet, however, anyone can create a website and publish information, whether or not it’s true.

That’s not to say a website is unreliable just because you haven’t heard of it. But if you don’t know the source, you should double-check the information.

Jim Macnamara, a professor of public communication at the University of Technology Sydney, compares trusting unknown sources with getting into a car with a stranger.

“Be sceptical of any single source … look for multiple sources.”

“Be sceptical of any single source unless it is someone you know to be trustworthy,” he says. “Always look for confirming sources, look for multiple sources.”

News or opinion: what’s the difference?

Angela Blakston, a former journalist who now teaches journalism at Deakin University in Victoria, says the blurring of news and opinion worries her.

Opinion stories are popular on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, and there are opinion stories in newspapers too.

A news story lays out the facts and tries to offer different views; an opinion piece is one person’s view.

News seeks to be fair and balanced; opinion does not.

Ms Blakston says if you want to tell the difference, see if there are a few people being quoted in the story rather than just one.

And if you think it is opinion, do some research to see if the writer is an expert on the subject.

Hidden advertising

Another big part of media literacy is knowing how to tell when a story is really an ad.

“There’s a lot of advertising in the YouTubers’ content … they’re often not saying they’re sponsored by these brands.”

Some advertising makes ads look like news stories. They often appear on real news websites and look the same as real stories.

There’s a big difference though: a company is paying for the story to sell a brand or product.

Does it promote one brand?

Joanne Orlando, a researcher in the field of children and technology in Sydney,  says the trick is to see if a story promotes one brand or product above others.

She says hidden advertising is really bad on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram where popular users are often paid a lot of money to say how good a product is.

“Kids are watching a lot of YouTubers but there’s a lot of advertising in the YouTubers’ content and they’re often not saying they’re sponsored by these brands,” says Dr Orlando.

Facebook and the ‘echo chamber’

There is an important part of how Facebook works that many people don’t know.

The stories that appear in your newsfeed are chosen by a complicated computer process based on websites you’ve visited and stories you’ve read. When this happens it can lead to what is called an “echo chamber”, where all the things you read offer similar views.

“If you’re only reading one source you could be in trouble,” says Professor Macnamara.

News for me

MediaMe is finally here.

This week, 35 Australians aged 10 to 15 will sit down together and thrash out a national media literacy action plan.

Join the debate live via Facebook on November 20 at 10am AEDT. Six media literacy leaders will be tackling the topic The news is not for kids.

Facebook is for people aged 13+, so you may need a parent or teacher to supervise you so you can watch.

Tiffany, 12, NSW
[Media literacy] is important because kids should know about the world and what is happening, and they need to know that news isn’t always true in the internet world.
Finn, 10, WA
Media literacy is important because you should be able to know what to trust or not to trust in the media.
Billy, 15, NSW
To me, media literacy means being able to understand the vocabulary associated with the media, politics and the world around us. We need to be media literate to be able to understand the world and how the media portrays it.
Campbell, 13, NSW
I think all children should be media literate as it encourages them to think about media they are being exposed to and critique it instead of believing everything they might read or watch.
Harmonie, QLDHarmonie, 11, Qld
To me, media literacy – the ability to not only read, but understand advertisements and articles – means knowing how to navigate different sites and stories and how to determine whether they’re true or false.
Jackson, 13, Qld
Media literacy has been around for a long time but as technology continues to develop society is being exposed to more and more media. Therefore my generation looks to tools like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to access media.
Jack, 12, Qld
A person who is media literate can also create media that is truthful and not misleading.
Zel, 12, SA
[Media literacy] is important as the media is vital to a healthy democracy, keeping an eye on governments and businesses in a society.
Zoe, 13, Tas
With media becoming a bigger part of all young Australians’ lives – especially social media – it’s crucial that teenagers are able to comprehend the information and sort fact from fiction.
Max, 10, Vic
Without the right skills and lessons, people may be misled by what they read, see and hear, and they may even be persuaded to form opinions and take actions that don’t really reflect their individual values.

Creating & sharing

Media literacy is also about learning to create and share media responsibly and thoughtfully.

For young people this might be through online blogs, YouTube videos, articles for the school newspaper or even photos on Snapchat or Instagram.

Ms Blakston says it’s important to ask yourself questions you would ask when reading, watching or listening to someone else’s work. This might include things such as:

  • Is my information accurate, up-to-date and from reliable sources?
  • Am I using trusted sources (such as, websites, books, reports, people)?
  • Have I included more than one side of the story?
    If not, what other views should I get to make my story fair and balanced?
  • If I’m quoting or using somebody else’s information or opinion, am I telling my readers that and not making it look like it’s mine?
  • If I’m using somebody else’s picture or video, do I have permission? And if so, am I making it clear it’s theirs and not mine?
  • In short, the most important things are reporting what’s true, not harming others and being responsible.

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