Media Literacy and Civility

Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot      September 18, 2020

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Media Literacy and Civility
On September 11, 2001, I woke up. I groped for the remote to ignite the television. I saw a plane crash into a building and heard lots of screaming. I thought it was some TV show. I groggily started surfing the channels. Same images of mayhem, chaos, screaming, same images on all the channels. I saw someone jump out of a tall building. His tie streamed up over his head. No superhero swooped out of the sky to catch him. I sat up, alert, focused, riveted. Another plane flew into the adjacent building. Explosions. Firestorm. Falling towers. More jumpers, scenes that were later scrubbed from the more sanitized images the networks showed. Getting ready to teach, I never disconnected from the news. I went from a bedroom TV to a kitchen TV to my car radio to my high school classroom. It was an upper level drama class. I said to my beautiful students, I want you to write down every little nuance of your experience this morning. We are storytellers who will be called on in the future to tell this nightmare tale with our instruments: body, face, and voice. You need to recall this day, this morning, accurately. You need to be able to tell a truthful story. I looked down and was surprised to see my hands were shaking. The truth of that day. There was a tremendous, nationally unified response. At first, not the good kind. It was the kind that looks like the herd coming together in a tight group when a predator is threatening them. Covered wagons circling to make a wall against attackers. Boys wanted to run down to the nearest recruiter and enlist. I couldn’t believe it. Their posture got straight. Their bodies looked inflated. They talked loudly. Their eyes flickered back and forth. They suddenly looked older. They wanted action. The girls were quieter and intense, staring ahead of themselves from steely, determined faces. There was no question that they all understood our country had been attacked. An instant kind of maturity emerged. There was a great togetherness in the country. Young men and women desperately wanted to “do something” to help. I can’t tell you how many of them ran to the Red Cross and stood in long lines to give blood, including my own son and daughter. Strong young people around the nation crowded the internet websites to sign up to help dig New York out. Many did just that. Clothing drives were organized. Donations for families of lost loved ones poured in. First responders from all over the nation went to ground zero to help. Search and rescue and therapy dog teams volunteered to find survivors, and, later, bodies. People of all faiths prayed together for the dead, the wounded, the bereaved, and for our country. On September 11 a friend of mine was doing a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon. When he came down a few days later, he couldn’t figure out why flags covered every surface he looked at and were flying from cars, trucks, trains, firetrucks, all over the place. People connected in 2001. The beautiful, generous spirit of the good American people carried us through some very dark days. We have to stop letting the world’s trolls divide, polarize, tribalize, balkanize us. There is so much sophisticated, purposeful misinformation and disinformation and “influencing” coming at us from bad actors every day, deliberately trying to pit us against each other. It’s an infodemic! It is up to us to be media literate. Here are some terms to understand: Disinformation is demonstrably false information that is being presented as fact with the intention to deceive the public. Intent is critical. Make no mistake about it: a main intent of disinformation today is to pit Americans against each other. Misinformation is when you share disinformation. We have all done that because we are all susceptible. We have seen a story that engages us and shared it, only to find out it was false. We let our biases or emotions draw us into reactive posting without checking the credibility of the post, without fact-checking it and/or checking the sources. For example, there was a viral piece of disinformation that people turned into misinformation by unintentionally passing on the story that you could get Covid at a mailbox, mailing in your ballot. This is a voter suppression attempt. This raged over social media sites. Lots of people believe this story even now, though it has been totally de-bunked. That is the illusory truth effect, the more often we see something, the more we think it’s true. Understand, there are a lot of bad actors trying to break our country apart for gain and power. Stop drinking the Kool-Aid, defriending and insulting people you differ with. People are really tired of the meanness. Don’t say, “I don’t want to be friends with you if you vote….” That is ridiculous. It’s fanatic. It is not becoming to your character. Stop the cancel culture, embrace diversity, especially of ideas. Be substantive. Question what you are seeing…is it news or opinion? Are the sources reliable. Is it real? Be sure of your facts. It takes work. Do fact-check from several sources. Do reverse image searches to make sure photos and videos are real. Check Google on how to do that. Don’t let your social media algorithms put you in a filter bubble; expose yourself to various points of view. If you want to criticize someone, don’t publicly rant or shame them. Send a substantive private message and present your corrections in a respectful way. Engage with empathy and respect. We are in fire season here in Topanga. You think your neighbor will refuse to help you or you will refuse to help them in an emergency because of whom they or you vote for? Good grief! Pick up the clue phone. You can love someone with whom you have differing opinions! We had a fire right in the narrows this week and two people called me to reassure me they would get my horses if things got dicey without any kind of litmus test. Connected! If you want world peace, let it begin with you! Namaste! Shalom! Aloha! Salam! Dona Nobis Pacem! Shanti! Shanti! Vamos a ver!
Paula Labrot

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