By Imogen Kars
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels
The online media ecosystem is so entwined with our daily lives that it can easily blur the lines between our personal existences and the global community. Without efficient self-care and conscious consumerism, consistent engagement is a losing battle.
We live in an ultra complex world, magnified by the smoke and mirrors of social media, mainstream media and online trends. From #blacklivesmatter to #metoo, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, frazzled and paralysed by the state of the online world. We’re not given the knowledge or tools to navigate the media ecosystem effectively, and our ignorance is actively steering us toward a path of inequality. Imogen Kars is an Australian journalist, activist and media educator. who has shared a guide to help us understand and critique the media we consume.
Understand what media is
The first step to taking charge of your relationship with the media is to understand what media is – and it’s likely not what you think. While the general understanding of media starts and stops at mainstream media, it’s important to get a grip on exactly what media is defined as.
Medium noun plural noun: media a means by which something is communicated or expressed.
Everything you read, consume and create is media. From the texts you send, to the receipts you throw away, to the street signs you follow – if it communicates an idea, message or information, it’s media.
Get hot and heavy with the concept of media literacy
It sounds dreary, but it’s a delightful school of thought that puts the power back into the hands of the individual. Media literacy is basically the ability to effectively engage within our digital society. It incorporates skills that muster conscious understanding, creation, communication, thinking, inquiring, evaluating, analysing – which in turn, spark a well-informed society.
It’s a big can of worms to open, but it’s important to understand that media (from the news, to television shows, books and movies, to social media posts, to brand marketing etc) actively forms and shapes our social conscience and culture.
As we exist currently, most members of society are not media literate. Citizens are engaged and enraged with fake news, and our inability to discern truth from fiction is impacting us in big ways.
Just as fairy tales, history, myths and legends have shaped the world we know today, our media landscape continuously moulds society. Our behaviours, thoughts and opinions are shaped by the media that we consume, and those opinions influence the way we vote and interact or engage with public affairs. This in turn directly impacts people and their rights and lives, as well as the earth and her creatures. For example – if a mainstream media organisation continuously covers immigrant issues in a negative and biased light, consumers of that coverage are going to form prejudices against immigrants, and potentially use their votes to lessen immigrant rights. While it seems far-stretched, this is the reality of the current world.
Get to know the truth behind mainstream media
Did you know that mainstream media is built upon a system of clicks, a scaffold of sensationalism and an ode to entertainment? While every entity does things a little differently, outlets that don’t actively aim to create unbiased content and inform are merely creating an echo chamber that prioritises profits over truth. Content is designed to cater to the views and habits of their consumers, and big money is handed over from various stakeholders who want an issue influenced including: advertisers, corporations and governmental bodies.
Diversify your online media consumption
Diversifying your media consumption can mean different things depending on things like where you live and what you consume.
It can mean switching off to mainstream media outlets and focusing on unbiased, reputable outlets instead. It can mean engaging with social media accounts that focus on educating consumers on specific issues with their own lived experiences or expertise. It can mean reading books outside of your preferred genre or watching movies on issues you’ve never heard about. It can even mean consuming information outside of your comfort zone.
One of the most important factors in diversifying your media diet is to consume the work of silenced voices including, but not limited to: BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and people with disability. Similarly to every institution, mainstream media has a long way to go when it comes to including and employing staff with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Individually, you hold the power and can and should choose to consume content created by individuals from all walks of life.
Consuming media that sits outside your bubble of comfortability or normality is a vital initial step in breaking down the barriers to thoughtful consumption, and has the power to slowly change the way individuals interact with the world around them.
For example, if you’re looking to read up on the #blacklivesmatter movement, you should be learning from Black voices. Sticking to coverage created by predominantly white reporters from mainstream outlets is a safe way to ensure you’re only seeing one tiny slice of the story.
Ask yourself – is this content created from a place of experience (Black content creator on Instagram), expertise (Black psychologist featured on a reputable news media source) or solely profit (mainstream media outlets)? While there’s more to it than this, it’s a good way to begin diversifying what you consume, how you interact with it and what you take from it.
It’s also important to note that more sources doesn’t automatically mean more diverse.
Switch off so you can switch on
The online media ecosystem is so entwined with our daily lives that it can easily blur the lines between our personal existences and the global community. Without efficient self-care and conscious consumerism, consistent engagement is a losing battle. More and more social media users are using their platforms to get educated on social issues and stand up, but there’s a fine line between a burning passion and burning out.
When hashtag movements take off, like #blacklivesmatter and #metoo, scrolling, engaging and posting can feel like a never-ending movement of both pressure and awareness. It can be difficult to switch off or think about anything else, but it’s important to take time off and create personal boundaries.
Get conscious about your own content
Understand that you’re a part of the media ecosystem too, so get real about what you post and share.
Does this sound familiar? You’re scrolling through Facebook and a headline grinds your gears, but without reading the content, you share it. Before you know it, your entire friends list has seen it and ten friends have also shared it to their newsfeed. It’s all well and good, until you realise the content you reposted is fake news – and now it’s been shared with potentially hundreds or thousands of your friends and acquaintances over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond.
It’s important to feel sure a story is valid before re-sharing it, and you can start by reading it thoroughly. Ask yourself some questions like: what kind of content is this and who wrote it? What kind of publication or outlet is this source? What experts are cited or interviewed? What is the evidence? Is the point of the piece proven by the evidence? What’s missing?
It’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay to press share on a dodgy source and realise later – we’ve all done it, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is the system we live in, and every time you read beyond the headline before sharing, you’re challenging that system.
Becoming media literate is a huge learning curve and takes time. Realising you have power is only day one in navigating the multifaceted and utterly baffling media ecosystem, but reading this article in its entirety is a brilliant start.