Nunatsiaq News
COMMENTARY: Nunavut July 10, 2018 - 2:15 pm

Beyond the headlines, July 10

In an era of Facebook and “fake news,” media literacy is more important than ever

THOMAS ROHNER

If you trust news outlets to hold government and corporations accountable, who holds the media accountable? The short answer is people like you, readers of Nunatsiaq News.

But that’s not always an easy task. Even with Nunavut’s slow internet speeds and low internet access, Nunavummiut are increasingly exposed to news from around the world through their computers, phones and tablets via news sites, social media like Facebook or online ads.

And now there is “fake news” to worry about and “advertorials,” which are ads written to fool you into believing what you’re reading is really news.

How do you know if that “news story” your Facebook friend posted about fidget spinners taking off children’s fingers, or about electronic cigarettes blowing up in people’s faces, or about the harm of smoking weed, is really “true”? How can you test the information in those stories? And what should you do with, or think or say about, that information?

The goal of this column is to encourage Nunavummiut to become more critical consumers of news, to encourage what is called “news media literacy.” News media literacy in Nunavut, where just a generation or two ago Inuit largely grew up in outpost camps—without WiFi—is arguably even more important.

Here are the top four reasons I think news media literacy is important:

• The amount of information we are subjected to through news media is only going to increase as Nunavut internet improves and the territory becomes more integrated into Canadian and global society.

• That increase makes it even more important for us to hone skills that help us recognize what is news versus opinion versus advertisement, and who is paying for those messages.

• Those skills will help us develop informed opinions, have informed discussions and make informed choices as citizens of a democratic society.

• Making informed choices in a democratic society is directly linked to our sense of dignity—if we’re being blindly brainwashed into believing false statements and acting on those statements, we are robbed of our dignity.

One of the first lessons I learned when Nunatsiaq News hired me out of journalism school in 2014 was how to use Google. Don’t ask a question if you can answer that question yourself in almost no time simply by Googling, my editors taught me.

Knowing how to look things up yourself can be especially important when you encounter so-called news on Facebook, where a closed group of people you’ve collected over the years are more likely than not to post messages you already agree with.

With governments, corporations and even news agencies competing for your trust and confidence, it is crucial for citizens of a democratic society to arm themselves with tools of critical thinking.

“Citizens of the democratic societies should undertake a course of intellectual self-defence to protect themselves from manipulation and control, and to lay the basis for meaningful democracy,” wrote Noam Chomsky in his book Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies. Chomsky is a famous academic who has been analyzing Western news media for over 30 years.

In the coming columns, I will do my best to present useful information and interesting anecdotes that show a side of journalism you may not be familiar with. Reading through Nunatsiaq News’ colourful comment section—something I would only recommend in moderation—shows many readers have strong feelings and opinions about news stories. If you have any suggestions of topics to address in this column—questions, frustrations, even anger—I hope you will contact me.

Beyond the Headlines is a biweekly column that provides a behind-the-scenes look at journalism in Nunavut. Its aim is to encourage readers to consume news with a skeptical mind. Thomas Rohner is a freelance investigative reporter who has lived in Iqaluit for four years, and has contributed stories to Nunatsiaq News, CBC North and the Toronto Star. You can contact him at Thomas.rohner@gmail.com or find him on twitter @thomas_rohner.


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(9) Comments:

#1. Posted by Free on July 10, 2018

Cool - looking forward to it… too much criticism out there and not enough critical thinking… Whoops.. here I go calling the kettle black again…

#2. Posted by iThink on July 10, 2018

Great piece, Thomas. Critical thinking skills in general are of critical importance in our society.

#3. Posted by Vicki Aitaok on July 10, 2018

Interesting!

#4. Posted by Bobby on July 10, 2018

“One of the first lessons I learned when Nunatsiaq News hired me out of journalism school in 2014 was how to use Google. Don’t ask a question if you can answer that question yourself in almost no time simply by Googling, my editors taught me.”

Dude, your editors said that likely so you’d stop asking them questions.

#5. Posted by YesIam on July 11, 2018

Even fake elections with non-elected people running things

#6. Posted by Observer on July 11, 2018

It’s not just about using Google when you don’t know an answer; sometimes it’s most important to use it when you *think* you know an answer, just to be sure what you know is correct.

I’ve seen it happen more often than not in comment threads, here and elsewhere. Someone will say something that 10 seconds of googling would have shown them was wrong, because apparently it’s more important to spout off ignorance right away than it is to take a few seconds to see if maybe you shouldn’t say something that makes you look like an idiot.

#7. Posted by Piitaqanngi on July 11, 2018

We were taught to believe the Bible. As such there are many people that take it to be true word for word.
We’re gullible and trust written media because it’s in our nature. It will be interesting to see if people can become critical of information they digest rather than believing it.

#8. Posted by Manipulation and control gatekeeper on July 11, 2018

Interesting you use Noam Chomsky as an academic example for guarding oneself from manipulation and control. 

When Noam is an academia Gate Keeper himself. 

Sure he has authored around100 books and writes and gives many good points and arguments in talks. Which helps slide his misdirection or lies not be questioned or even noticed by his followers that they are being mislead.

Why it’s questioned, if he’s working for the people he says he is against. Quite the cover. It’s known his pay cheques have been signed by MIT, pentagon and USA air-force. CIA gave him a popularity boast, as in don’t look this way or think (manipulation and control) when they said, yes they were secretly monitoring him.

#9. Posted by Salem Alaton on July 13, 2018

This column is an excellent inspiration. At a time of constant media overload from many, many unidentified sources, media awareness and literacy are critical for people to keep a grip on what’s happening, what’s real, what matters. This is a very promising debut for Beyond the headlines.

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