New Media Literacy and Research

First of all I want to say that in this post I will not be talking about plain old “Media literacy”.  That’s been done by a million people, as has everything, and truth be told, it’s outdated.  Gone are the days when we could even pretend that we can limit media in our lives.  There is no longer the one hour of screen time run that forced me to choose in between Sailor Moon (Which my mom thought was satanic and if I watched too much of it I would become…like a Japanese sex slave or something?) or Xanga (Yes, that’s how old I am.  When I was 16 we were still using color codes to program out Xanga page backgrounds.  This was pre myspace even). And before you think that this is an article bashing new media, it’s not.  Media has always been a part of the human experience.  And it has always been an easy scapegoat for society’s problems.  People are too morbid?  It’s because of the Penny Dreadful.  People have a bad body image? Blame the magazines.  Kids are getting violent?  It’s your video games.  They are looked at as a cause of problems instead of a reflection of society.  I do not blame Media for anything because it is not the cause.  It’s the effect- and then it just becomes a self-propitiating system.  But it’s a lot easier to blame media than fix our societal problems. 

Media is…complicated, most of all since digital media got rolling.  We are just not prepared to take in the amount of information and sort through it that internet has to offer.  It’s an overabundance while meanwhile we are not giving people the tools to sort through it. 

It am not an expert.  But my degree is in anthropology and I am still very intrenched in that research methodology.  Plus, I am a pragmatic person who likes to verify her sources before she speaks because honestly?  Being a woman and looking young already opens me up to being questioned and being disregarded.  I am not about to give people a reason to do it more because I didn’t check my sources.  I also happen to be an eating disorder survivor/ constantly in a state of recovery so I have a pretty personal insight into that corner of the internet and have talked to a lot of people and chronicled a lot of information on body issues and where they came from. 

But let’s start with the basics.  Science.  The other day I was in my ceramics class and got into a discussion with a woman who is anti-mask.  Specifically, she thinks that kids shouldn’t wear masks in schools.  Getting away from the fact that schools are public institutions and have been regulating girls’ spaghetti straps since at least my middle school years in the 1990’s, schools have been requiring vaccinations and safety checks for decades.  Polio, mumps, chicken pox, missals: all of these you MUST have before enrolling in school.  None of this is new.  But she told me there was ‘no science’ proving that masks work.  I said yes, there absolutely is research showing that masks work.  You wouldn’t go into surgery and see that your surgeon isn’t wearing a mask and gloves and think that it was okay.  She told me in these exact words “Well I have my science and you have your science.” 

To which I promptly replied, “There is no your science and my science.  There is only one science.” To which she “agreed to disagree”- the second most absurd science in this conversation. 

Let’s take a moment to break this down.  We can not operate as a community if we can not agree on a shared set of facts and rules.  For instance.  “We agree that stop lights help prevent car accidents.  Here are the statistics on that.  We all agree to stop at stoplights.”  Or “We agree that you should cover your junk in public.  Having my genitals hanging out makes other people feel uncomfortable so I agree to wear pants/ skirts/ something.”  These are shared facts that we all acknowledge so that we can live in a society.  One is numbers based.  One is based in the comfort of others.  Both are relevant. 

The other thing that this woman told me about “Her science” was that she “read a science article.” – I’m actually not going to get into the syntax of this sentence because that’s not relevant and people only attack other peoples language when they don’t have anything else to say.  I have a lot to say here. 

A science article is NOT an article that you read on face book or even google.  All articles that are relevant need to follow a very very specific set of vetting rules.  Rules that I learned…pretty damn young as my dad had me doing science experiments when I was young. Please look up the scientific method in a basic elementary school text book but I will give a few principles that we can use to vet them out in New Media. 

The internet has so much information that can be put up by anyone. Learn to sift through it before holding ANYTHING as fact.

I firmly believe that humans were not meant to have this kind of access to information.  Or at least we weren’t taught how to sift through it.  This is something that we need to put in schools and that we need to teach people how to use properly.  Many real scientific papers are behind pay walls so what is in the public view is often recapped and interpreted, adding another layer of opinions over fact.  We must teach people how to look for well sourced information instead of just seeing things at face value without any follow up.  On both sides.

The internet is following you.  Clear your cookies but know that that’s not going to get rid of all your information.

I clear my cookies (Searches/ what the internet remembers about me) at least daily, sometimes more then that.  But that doesn’t mean that the internet doesn’t know everything about me.  We all know that the internet recommends things to you.  If you don’t want to fall down the rabbit hole the best thing to do is not click on anything recommended.  Even if you don’t though, your search history will still look up the kind of things that you have already searched before.  This, in the academic space, is called confirmation bias.  You are looking for something to prove what you have already looked at.  Being aware of this is important.

Understand the writer/ news caster/ researchers intent.

Studies and articles are often funded by people with an intent.  Tobacco companies did this for decades and are a common example of how an industry can use scientist papers/ journals to further their own intentions.  Always make sure you know who a study is funded by, who is preforming it, do they have any ties that might color their research/ conclusions.  Every single writer has their own inherent Bias.  If they will not acknowledge this they are either arrogant or lying. …or both.  Having a bias doesn’t inherently discredit the research but you must be willing to think critically about it. 

Always collaborate sources.

Sources need to be creditable.  Just like they have always needed to be.  To do this find out what their field is in, who they work for now, what they have written in the past relating to the topic and who is amplifying it out into the digital world.  For instance, you all know I am a hippie.  When I say Tucker Carlson is not creditable, you know I have my own bias.  But you also know that Tucker Carlson is NOT a scientist/ does not have a degree in immunology, is not a doctor, works for a company that has a very clear view point and is unwilling to admit Bias.  Should you go looking for another source to collaborate what Tucker says?  YES.  And you should probably look somewhere that is not politically or financially affiliated.  In order for a science experiment to yield facts it MUST be repeated.  Not just be able to be repeated to actually be repeated by different groups.

Make the clear and obvious mental note to yourself that opinions are not facts. 

Science is…not about faith.  Its not about what you believe.  What you believe has a lot to do with what you want.  Of course, we want the pandemic to be over.  Of course, we don’t want to wear a mask.  No one wants this.  But this is the state of the world right now.  That is a fact.  Opinions are on TV shows or what restaurant in town is the best.  It can even be over what steps to take next but when there is a count of people who have died, of the medical bills people who were on ventilators cost, the spray patterns of germs and how they travel in the air, is not a matter of opinion. 

Do NOT use social media as a source.  You know what? Don’t even use it as a jumping off point.

I really don’t have much to say on this besides to say it over and over again.  SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT A NEWS SOURCE. I am not a hater on social media.  I think its great and am actually on it a lot.  I have friends all over the world that I would have never met if it weren’t for social media.  But it is not a news source and should not be used as one.  If you see a head line of something someone puts on Facebook, don’t click on it.  It is going to pull you into a rabbit hole.  Instead, if you are interested in something, go out and find the article using the principles above. 

Be willing to change your opinion as you absorb new information.

This is a big one that I do absolutely love talking about.  Once you find something and vet it, it might still not be what you want to hear.  Ideally you will know that you are finding good information when in the process of going through things your understanding of the facts is altered.  This is how you know you aren’t just getting regurgitated information from the rabbit hole.  When you do get this information, it is a GOOD thing to change your opinion.  It does not make you a ‘flip flopper’ it means that your mind is expanding and you are willing to grow and change based on the work of people that know more about something then you (the majority of as aren’t immunologists for example.) Doubling down on thing is not always the best thing, most of all when you know that its wrong.  Changing your viewpoint doesn’t make you weak.  It makes you smart, mentally agile, and willing to expand.

Consider not having an opinion at all

Here is a thought that is just mind blowing.  You don’t need to have an opinion on everything.  When people ask you an opinion…. try saying that you’re just listening before you form one.  Not everything requires your opinion or for your opinion to be out there.  Its actually pretty damn narcissistic to think that you do need to have an opinion on everything. Sometimes when I am asked what I think I simply say “I don’t have/ haven’t done enough research to have an opinion on that actually. I’d prefer to just listen first.” This blows people’s minds!

Here is the really sad thing.  In the articles that I have posted about witchcraft and life, a lot of what I say I believe in is the power of connection.  Humans have always been pulled to a binary system (A system with two sides: male/ female, god/devil, good/ evil) but when the lines are cut down the middle it makes it hard for us to relate.  To me, implementing a system where people are taught to distinguish the facts from opinion and agree on a shared reality is the only way to survive/ continue in a social group. These are the connections that hold groups together and without a shared reality, there is no way that we will ever be able to live in a group, much less accomplish anything.  This binary system where we do not teach people to find common ground in shared facts destroys the connections that have made humans a dominant species since the beginning of time.  When we do not connect and relate to each other on the basis of a shared reality, we are doomed to infighting and tribalism. 

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