A recent call to the Richmond News asking if it was true that disgraced Chinese superstar pianist Yundi Li had been offered a position at Yale University is an example of the kind of misinformation people need to guard against, according to Kelly Banks, senior director at PressReader.
It was earlier reported Li, who has a large fan base in Richmond, had allegedly been caught with a prostitute and subsequently barred from performing anywhere in China.
Soon after the publication of that news report, which was verified, an anonymous post started swirling through social media saying it didn’t matter that he couldn’t perform in China as he was starting a new job as a tenured professor with America’s Yale School of Music.
The School of Music Dean of Yale quickly took to social media to say this was not the case.
"Misinformation over social media is not just exclusive to the Richmond community or the WeChat platform. Many big social media platforms are looking at the same issues," said Banks.
To help people, especially the younger generation, spot lies and misinformation while navigating a flood of information, PressReader, a local tech firm, recently rolled out a free media literacy kit. Readers are encouraged to download it online.
"We have witnessed an enormous shift in the media landscape... it's important to access credible sources and develop critical thinking," said Banks.
Media illiteracy existed before COVID-19, but the situation has worsened since the pandemic with more people moving online and a heightened sense of anxiety.
Meanwhile, media literacy education has lagged behind the rapid growth of social media techniques, noted Banks.
One study from New York University showed that misinformation on Facebook travelled six times faster than factual information. The social media algorithms are good at "separating audiences" to reinforce certain stereotypes and particular worldviews for specific user groups,” said Banks.
"It's dangerous for democracy and personal development," she added.
Readers should double-check their sources, and know the original source before sharing anything on social media.
"Then, do a reverse image search for photos within the story, or try to find the same story from an outlet you know you can trust. If something seems too-wild-to-be-true, it probably is. It's a habit that we need to practice, and we can get better."
Other tips from Banks on how to improve media literacy:
1. Go to quality journalist sources at your local library or digital newsstands.
2. Check government and university sites for objective, data-based research.
3. Search academic journals (available through databases like LexisNexis and Google Scholar)
4. Regardless of where you're getting your information, fact-check.
5. Pay attention to author bias - the concept that all authors or sources have biases and subjectivity.
5. Parents, have conversations with your children when watching advertising that oversells products.