So what are the effects of having a population not well versed in media literacy? What happens when people unquestioningly accept everything they see, or, just as bad, unquestioningly deny everything they see reported? It got driven home to me in a couple of ways this week.
The first, is that Michael Moore et al. released a documentary on YouTube in honor of Earth Day called Planet of the Humans. The central conceit of this documentary is that the green movement has been taken over by corporate interests, and any attempt to clean up our planet short of significant depopulation and a complete rejection of civilization, especially capitalist civilization, is doomed to fail.
Critics quickly dug into its claims and noted that the data they were using on the efficiency and costs of solar and wind power generators were woefully out of date, and some of the various “facts” they propose are really just opinions, often from those who are not actually trained in the field they’re speaking about.
Yet despite this, I see many people touting the film as if it somehow disproves climate change in general, using its attacks on some notable figures in the environmental movement as a type of blanket condemnation, without even noting, or perhaps knowing, that the message of the movie is that climate change is far more dire than we’ve been lead to believe.
Closer to home, some relatives of mine recently posted to social media an argument against reporting those who seem to be violating public health rules, characterizing it as being a “snitch” and turning neighbour against neighbour or family against family. When I pressed them on it, the response was an argument about a slippery slope to government oppression of the populace. These are people who I know have good hearts, but when I pointed out that reporting these people is not turning against your neighbours, but instead is a means of defending your neighbours against those who’d unwittingly bring disease and death to it, I was accused of attempting to squelch their opinion. Which, truth be told, I was. It was an opinion I believe as not only erroneous, but, in this situation, outright dangerous. I would be quite happy if it wasn’t spread any further. But I feel doing so may have damaged my relationship with them. Is hampering disinformation worth that kind of cost? I’m not sure. In this case, I think so. But part of what allows disinformation to flourish is that when we have to correct our friends and family, we risk losing precious connections. Who wants to risk that? But if we don’t, what we get is, well, what we see–increased polarization with each side having its own “facts” that may or may not be real.
So the feature article in the Voice this week was in the back of my mind as I saw and thought about these things. There used to be a time, before the internet, when marginal and, yes, dangerous, opinions would be seen as marginal. Those who had them would find few in their community who would agree with them, and so fairly quickly be dissuaded from trying to spread them further. The internet, however, let’s these few people in each community find each other where they can reinforce their own beliefs and then take comfort that if so many people they know agree with them, they must be correct. Because, honestly, our brains aren’t designed to fully comprehend the vast numbers of minds we can connect with online.
This means media literacy has become more valuable than ever, yet it remains a subject that so few seem versed on. We haven’t yet, as a society, realized that it’s as vital a part of our education system as math, science, history, or trades training. Until we do, I fear things will trend worse before better. That’s depressing. Enjoy the read!