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.