During election season, the variety of political information available can make it difficult to determine what is accurate and what is not.
Kevin Banda, Texas Tech associate professor of political science, said a lot of misinformation can be traced to the increase in news sources and media fragmentation, which has allowed the public to opt into choosing how they will receive their political news.
This typically leads to people receiving one-sided news from a source who agrees with their opinions, Banda said.
“They want to hear is that their team is good, and the other team is bad. So, people are probably opting into receiving junk news,” Banda said. “They’re predisposed to ignore news that suggests that the other team is good.”
Nick Bowman, Tech associate professor of journalism and creative media industries, said the majority of false information is spread in closed, tight-knit circles where people can latch on to an idea without verifying it.
“I see a lot of misinformation on Reddit and smaller sub-Reddits because you have like-minded people who are gathering together to discuss things,” Bowman said.
It is easiest for false information to be spread when people do not question what they are reading, Bowman said.
One way to prevent being influenced by misinformation and repetitive news is by practicing media literacy.
Rauf Arif, associate professor of journalism and creative media industries, said media literacy is the process of receiving information and then going and verifying that information with another source.
“What media literacy does to us, it tells us what reliable media is and what is the credible source of information,” Arif said.
Media literacy is important when consuming political information because it helps voters make informed decisions, Arif said.
To understand media literacy, people also must understand the role of the media, Arif said.
The media creates messages, disseminates messages and then ensures messages are conveyed as clearly as possible, Arif said.
There are multiple skills the public can incorporate into their daily news routine to become more media literate.
One way is by lateral reading, which is a way to confirm the accuracy of information, Bowman said. If there is a story that seems too good to be true, try to find the information from another source. The general public also could see if they can find the same quotes and images being used in other stories.
Another skill of media literacy is being able to recognize persuasive attempts, Bowman said. If the news source is being persuasive, understand what their end goal is and what they are trying to make the reader think.
Media consumers also should check to see if the news they get is making them overly-emotional, Bowman said.
“If your daily news routines just makes you fired up in the morning, you have a bad routine,” he said.
The news is generally boring, and if it makes one overly emotional, it is probably not based on facts, Bowman said.
Media consumers should also find their own credibility scale and find a daily news routine to stay informed, Bowman said.
Organizations, such as allsides.org, keep track of the credibility of various news sources, Bowman said. This is a good way to see how various news sources are ranked in terms of their credibility.
Another tip is to talk politics with friends and family, which allows greater understanding of how individuals interpret the news, Bowman said.
“Media literacy is not easy, but it is not hard either,” Bowman said. “It does require you to be interested in the news and to recognize the value of being an informed citizen not just on the facts but on the many perspectives and realities.”