By Gayanga Dissanayaka –
Ever since I started seeing news on television and newspapers as a child, I always noticed the powerful impact those information had on me, my peers, and the people around me. Most of the time these information imparted a powerful effect on us by creating stories in such a manner that triggered the emotions of the people.
In fact, the media in our country has often been quite hectic. There are dramatic and magnified news stories of accidents, crimes and other issues that are structured disturbingly which most of the time even violate basic media ethics. I witnessed this chaotic atmosphere in our society constantly to a point where I resented the idea of listening to news or reading them. I grew up actively ignoring news because of the exhaustion it created. But now, training to be a journalist myself, with media literacy at the forefront of my interests, what had been the problem back then and even now has become much clearer.
We always struggle to become logical consumers of media. A huge part of the reason is that the majority of the media is designed to make you panic causing many people to rely and act upon such information mindlessly. It’s normal because humans are attracted to crises but this instinct can be so overpowering that common sense and practical thinking and acting might as well get completely lost in the process. Which is why most of the news we receive through the media when thought of thoroughly, bear only slight news value or importance behind them. Often, the news we consume don’t contain newsworthy elements in them and are mostly structured with the pivotal intention of holding the public’s interest towards the media.
We all are different in terms of our opinions, likes and dislikes. And sometimes these differences can result in clashes. But with the rise of the media’s methods of manipulating the consumer, triggering our emotions and polarizing the society through it, we have become less and less empathetic and understanding about someone else’s ideological standing. Which, as a result creates broader vulnerabilities among the public including people becoming addicted to emotions, not tolerating diverse opinions and being compelled to create arguments and disparities among each other and through online platforms. Most of us fail to notice this and most of the time, don’t care to notice either. We as citizens have been molded in such a way that we react to the media instantly yet put little to no thought in analyzing how this news were created. Especially in Sri Lanka, there is little independence in media distribution since mainstream media in our country is mainly controlled by only a few powerful media organizations. Emphasizing this, 96% of our citizen’s watch television which clearly depicts that most of the ideologies which people in our country go by are generated by a few powerful people. Therefore, relying on the media and coming to conclusions based on facts and ideas presented by that alone should be done with more awareness and logic. As citizens, we should be more open minded and critical when consuming information that the media brings to us.
Media Literacy isn’t rocket science. If we perceive it as a life skill and train on it casually, we’ll be able to cultivate positive skepticism and succeed in decreasing issues concerning unhealthy media consumption. Simple methods such as fact checking information that you see on social media, keyword search and tracing official sources can impart positive results to greater lengths in the society. Since information through media can quickly be shared and distributed among the public, taking the time to correct an incorrect or fake news before it gets further distributed is highly beneficial to whom that information may affect. Also it’s highly important that we, as responsible consumers receive the information we get through the media with emotional balance and respond wisely to the situation that was resulted in. Recognizing where the particular news or information is coming from and understanding the intention behind it can help in having more control over how one reacts to a certain news. It might be a small act on your side but it becomes a powerful movement and would result in a significant positive change on the society as a whole.
Since the younger generation reigns a bigger part of social media too, it’s important for them to realize the basic nature of media and direct their energy towards practical and intelligent understanding of information that they consume on a daily basis through their smart devices. When the youth acts upon fake incorrect news, their negative consequences can even be threatening and irreversible. With algorithms and personal filter bubbles on the internet, users rarely get exposed to a diversity of news and information. Social media itself is designed to keep people constantly engaged with it by recommending posts and news that might hold your interests. This means that the information you see on the internet is most of the time, created and curated in order to match one’s own choices and opinions that is calculated by that person’s search activity and engagements. These filter bubbles limit the scope of information we receive and create an environment that gives news and material which the internet has decided and believes that we need to know. This information can trigger your emotions either positively or negatively but most of the time they are created to keep you actively engaged with it. By building less common ground with the general public, more disparities, less toleration for contradictory ideas and arguments can occur. Therefore, receiving this information that we consume daily with more practical knowledge and thinking twice before reshaping these information are our duties as responsible media consumers.
Media affects everyone in numerous ways and most of the time we believe that we aren’t directly challenged by it. But the truth is, we are under the constant influence of the media and without our clear awareness, this influence automatically shapes our day to day lives. It changes our thoughts, our ideas and ultimately our actions. So it’s necessary that we should be more fluent and critical of the media and its consumption. Otherwise it’s evident that we’ll be biased in terms of our ideologies which are mostly geared by the people behind powerful media corporations. Media is a great tool for democracy if used logically and correctly. Media can be used to solve problems that both masses and individuals go through in society and has ample potential in bringing out issues of the people and communities that the mainstream media isn’t interested in covering. Fact checking information before sharing them, educating yourself on media skills, understanding media ownership, recognizing our emotions when consuming media and responding the best possible way are practices that media consumers need to develop in order to create a healthy media environment. Sri Lanka and even the world need people with good media literacy as much as we need good media. Therefore, educate yourself on media literacy, practice it and act upon it to better your experience with the media and of the society as a whole because we can choose to do so and we have control. Change is possible and it starts with you.
*Gayanga is a media student attached to the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, and an Intern at the Centre for media and Information Literacy (CMIL)