By Gayanga Dissanayaka –
Even though we aren’t constantly aware of it, we as people depend on the media each and every day. The thirst for information that we carry enables this and we consume whatever information that we come across consistently. Media has a direct connection with our minds and this connection is powerful and influential. On natural impulse, our brains try to make sense of the information that we consume every day in whatever method or amount that’s familiar to us. And these methods and approaches that we take aren’t always correct. Our brains find it easier to settle down and trust in the information that we like to believe is true thus forming confirmation biases. We have to overcome this natural impulse and go beyond our confirmation biases in order to be media literate.
However, articulating information that you receive from mainstream media can be challenging since these media corporations are mostly operated under biases of their own and generate news that favour their own perspectives. While we should be critical and unbiased when consuming these information, it is also important to understand and learn about the more minor and simple media tools that we use that take advantage of our minds. One such powerful method is social media and these platforms in particular are well-versed in this connection between the media and the minds of the consumers. Therefore social media is structured in a way that rewards its users for these confirmation biases. They do this by continuously showing you the kind of news and information that you like and keeping you actively engaged with their platforms and applications as much as possible. This is how social media addiction is formed. The information you receive from them is curated to match your interests and the users tend to come back to these platforms to get their information satisfaction. And due to its high usage, people start relying on it for news. Social media is known for misinformation and if people aren’t conscious of what they let into their minds through them, then the risk of fake news being spread among the society is inevitably high.
The human brain tends to complete incomplete stories and is always motivated to find information satisfaction in whatever news they come across even though they might be wrong. If a certain news isn’t really important to us, we tend to settle down with whatever information we receive or understand regarding that. Therefore we automatically complete these unfinished stories and most probably end up creating false memories about those news. This happens quite often with complex news where the media would sometimes turn them into simpler news stories that are much easier for people to understand. But the content in such stories can be false. Therefore it is important to be conscious of the nature of information that you absorb every day.
The more we acknowledge our biases and thought patterns associated with consuming the media, the more we realize the mistakes we do and succeed in proceeding with the truth. For this we need to develop critical thinking skills and avoid satisfying ourselves with whatever information that we encounter. People love stories and they search for them on a daily basis. Thus, when we come across complex news we turn it into a simple, more familiar narrative for us and welcome that story with open arms. Likewise, the actual content behind the news can be distorted and we would carry a version of that information that makes more sense to us. We believe that we have complete control over what we think and believe in but with prolonged and powerful exposure to vast amounts of information through different media outlets, this proves to be wrong.
Our thoughts and perceptions get shaped, evolved and developed every day and our minds get massively influenced by the media and subsequently our behaviour along with it too. The more information we make our brains believe in, the more we act on these misleading information. Which is why as consumers, we should be educated on the nature of media, how it works and the intentions behind the information they give out. These intentions gradually become the consumers own intentions and what the media chooses, we choose too. Therefore it’s important not to let this influence affect our daily choices and life patterns in a negative manner. Most of the time, media center around profiting off of their consumers and would design information in ways that enable this. We should be mindful enough not to unnecessarily fall into this marketing strategy. By engaging with this process mindfully, we can avoid such media manipulation schemes and approach the information that we receive with an open yet analytical perspective.
Media controls what we think and this happens with or without our knowledge. We get taught indirectly to believe certain views and ideologies every time we come across a bit of news. We absorb such information through the media in vast quantities every day and we end up believing and accepting most of them. Algorithms in social media keep you engaged with them more thoroughly and feed your filter bubble with information that suits your own views thus creating a strong polarization in the society rather than critical thinking media consumers. We should realize this influence and give more attention to what we let our brains consume and let ourselves decide what information we should believe in and what values we should keep.
It’s necessary for us to get in touch with our cognitive skills when engaging with the media since we tend to immerse ourselves completely into the news we receive without questioning their accuracy or intention behind them. Our brains try to take the easy way out in most situations and the same habit applies when absorbing information. We are quick to accept what we see rather than take some time to evaluate them. The media is aware of this and takes advantage of it almost all the time. But if we train our brains to look at news more critically and acquire it as a life skill, we’ll be able to look past these unhealthy habits and control what we consume through the media. Developing this skill isn’t difficult. If we take responsibility as individuals and take small steps to check whether the news we receive is true or not and by verifying this information by using simple fact-checking tools, we as a society will be able to improve media literacy among us and move forwards with a healthy view towards media consumption.
Misinformation tends to create a lot of unnecessary and non-existing problems and clashes among the public. Most of these issues can be solved if we enhance our media literacy skills and receive the news we come across with a balanced and open mind. To make real and accurate sense of the information we receive and avoid these problems, it is important to understand that we have to do our part in being responsible media consumers. The more we deny this responsibility and avoid critical thinking, the more we are vulnerable to media manipulation and the many social issues and clashes that come with it. Our craving for information can result in a high chance for us to grab whatever news we receive as quickly as possible. This can be extremely risky especially if those particular news are formed in ways that can trigger the consumers.
Most of these triggers are designed in order to cause new habits and polarized sections in the society so that the business world behind the media could easily impose their views and practices onto the people. Unaware of this, we proceed to come under these influences and act according to their plans almost every day. Our minds get shaped, persuaded and altered by the world of media each time we receive news from them. Hence, we should take care to choose which information we should let in. Because the information that we thus consume would have power over our thinking patterns and behaviours. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we let those information change them. Continuing to consume media while being unaware of this influence would give complete power over the society to the media which enables them to control the public according to their strategies and furthermore weaken the background to improve media literacy. Therefore as constant news seekers going through new information each and every day, it’s efficient and meaningful if we could pursue media literacy as a life skill and get in touch with the world of media with sense and awareness.
*Gayanga is a student attached to the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, and an intern at the Centre for Media and Information Literacy (CMIL)