If you are an on-the-grid American, you probably have an opinion on the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade. Chances are, your opinion is based on the complex intersection of personal values, community influence, things like gender identity, sexual biology and race, and—importantly—the kinds of media you consume.
In a fraught socio-political reality, it is important to many of us to stay up-to-speed and well-informed on current events and their potential impact on ourselves and our communities. Anyone with a smart phone and social media knows, however, that the barrage of tweets, memes, articles, and op-eds can leave us feeling flooded, confused, or prone to black-and-white thinking. Make no mistake—almost none of the media we consume is without an agenda, whether it’s to get us to engage with and share a post or to sway us to a political side. Every single one of us has biases, including those who disseminate information about what’s going on in the world. So how can we know that the information we’re consuming is accurate and reliable, and how can we tend to our mental health as we engage with that information?
1. Become more media literate.
What is media literacy? Namle, a media literacy non-profit, defines media literacy as “the ability to encode and decode the symbols transmitted via media and synthesize, analyze and produce mediated messages.”1 More simply, it’s the ability to understand what we’re looking at, where it came from, who created it, whether or not it’s trustworthy, and whether or not it’s wise to share it.
The News Literacy Project has two quick, helpful quizzes to help determine if a source is reliable or worth sharing.2
It’s easy to look at a post or article and assume that it contains reliable, factual information. Knowing how to be more discerning about intentional about the media we consume is the first step in staying smart and sane as we scroll.
Vet your experts. One day in early 2020, two family members, one an extreme liberal and the other a staunch conservative shared the same video with me. The video depicted an interview with a doctor claiming she had proof that the virus causing COVID-19 was created in a Chinese laboratory. Both family members shared the video claiming its credibility was certain because the interviewee was a doctor. Upon further research I learned that this doctor’s conspiracy theory was one of many exaggerations and falsehoods spanning her entire career.
Here’s the thing: it makes sense that we’d look to titles and letters to give us a sense of trust in the folks from whom we’re getting our info. The problem is that highly educated people are still people; there are gifted OBGYNs who believe that life begins at fertilization and gifted OBGYNs who will face real prison time for performing second trimester abortions. Belief and expertise are different things. Further, the further along in one’s education a person goes, the more likely they are to specialize in a certain area; a title does not make a person an expert on all things. Someone with an art history PhD and the medical director of Planned Parenthood are both doctors. Only one is suited to offer expert knowledge in the area of reproductive justice and the impact of laws related thereto.
2. Get acquainted with your biases and know how they can impact the way you take in, synthesize, and disseminate information.
Know your news. Where does your news source fall on the spectrum of political extremism? There are a few organizations whose mission it is to chart media outlets along a spectrum, and each claims to have the best data collection methods and the most neutrality. While no data collection method is perfect, the ad fontes media bias chart has become “the gold standard” in evaluating how right or left leaning, fact-driven, and reliable myriad media sources are.4
My personal values place me solidly on the left side of the political spectrum. If all of my media consumption comes from liberal silos, however, then I risk widening my blindspots and deepening my biases. As much as I can stomach it, I try to peruse media sources whose values and biases are different than mine; of course, I do my due diligence to ensure that I’m being media literate about reliability and facts when I’m choosing said sources. Any extreme political agenda will churn out media filled with fake news and propagandistic ideology.
Understand SEO. Just kidding. That’s almost impossible. I can barely spell algorithms let alone wrap my brain around what they do. All we really need to remember is the main function of a search engine like Google is to use keywords to best match what we’re searching for with what’s available on the internet. The way we type out and what we include within a search impacts the results we get. For example: When I searched “gay marriage in danger” I found page after page of articles—many from well-vetted and respectable news outlets—warning that the overturning of the Obergefell decision is possible or even imminent. When I searched “gay marriage safe,” however, I found plenty of articles, also from reputable sources, arguing that marriage equality is likely here to stay.
Know your privilege. In addition to source reliability, also consider personal privilege when making the decision to support and share media. Comparing the overturning of Roe v. Wade to, say, “The Handmaid’s Tale” might feel like an apt comparison to a white, cishet, middle-class American woman. What that comparison neglects to acknowledge, however, is that the lived experience of BIPOC and queer folks for centuries has included horrors like rape, forced impregnation and childbirth, involuntary sterilization, and vast resource discrepancy in prenatal, L&D, and postnatal care for both mothers and babies.
3. Consider your Mental Health
It all feels out of control. It is the nature of the human brain to look for novelty and danger—that’s what help us stay safe in the world. Information gathering, commiserating, and planning are all normal, expected responses when our world feels scary and confusing. All can help us gain a sense of agency and to take productive action. Too much of these protective behaviors, however, can lead to hypervigilance, catastrophizing, or numbness. Finding balance between staying current on what is unfolding in our communities and tending to our hearts is as crucial as it is tricky.
What’s my goal here? In addition to “am I being media literate” it’s always helpful for me to ask myself what my motivation is for reading an article or scrolling through a social media page. Am I attempting to understand facts and synthesize different takes on similar information or am I searching for the media that supports my biases? Am I attempting to answer a specific question, looking for ways I can take constructive, concrete action or am I fueling my anxiety? It’s good for us to check in with our reasons for engagement and the way we’re feeling in our bodies as we scroll. If anger or fear is driving the bus or if we’ve lost connection with our felt experience, it’s a good idea to take a break.
Seriously though. It’s okay to take a break. I’m currently in the middle of a complete media fast. I noticed in the weeks following the Roe v. Wade decision that my screen time went up, I was losing chunks of time scrolling, I was having trouble sleeping, and I was future-tripping about scenarios I could at best merely speculate about. I know that I cannot show up for myself or others when I am numb or catastrophizing. When my inner critic offers up opinions about my worth or character being tied to my possession of up-to-the-minute information about everything, I remind her that in order to fight, I must rest. In order to pour into the cup of social justice, I need to be clear-headed and in connection with Self. Sometimes the best course of action is to put the phone in a drawer, turn off the news, find our breath, and return to ourselves. Or, at the very least, switch to cute puppy videos for a while. Be gentle, dear ones.
- Media Literacy Defined. NAMLE. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://namle.net/resources/media-literacy-defined/
- Tips & Tools Archive. News Literacy Project. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://newslit.org/tips-tools/ Paddy. (2021, June 2).
- Articles. First Draft. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://firstdraftnews.org/articles/
- Media Bias Chart. Ad Fontes Media. (2022, June 14). Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://adfontesmedia.com/