Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis

Be extra careful about what you share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

Especially when it comes to photographs of Hurricane Sandy. At least 11 photographs of the hurricane have gone viral.

These photographs are NOT of Hurricane Sandy.

You can find these fake images at http://www.buzzfeed.com/reyhan/viral-photos-that-arent-hurricane-sandy.

This is a major problem that needs to be addressed.

It is easy to spread false information on social media. One might think that they are doing something good and helping people by sharing information. While that individual might have good intentions, this accident only harms the public.

People need to be informed, not misled.

People are influenced by what they see. A photograph is worth a thousand words.

Gilens (2004) explains that it is easier to remember visual images than printed words because pictures are simple and immediate. It takes more time and effort for people to read a sentence than it is to look at a photograph. Gilens (2004) suggests that news photographs shape the subconscious process and can influence behavior.

Hurricane Katrina is an example of how photographs negatively influenced the public.

During the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the New York Times and Washington Post routinely published images that portrayed Black victims as poor, destitute, and helpless (Lee and Gandy, 2006). These photographs showed White volunteers and the National Guard providing food and medical supplies. Lee and Gandy (2006) explain that the images portrayed Blacks as a primitive people from a Third World country who relied on the United States to help them out. The New York Times published no photos that showed a Black as a rescuer and a White as a victim. These images perpetuate the stereotypes and distorted representations of African Americans (Lee and Gandy, 2006).

I recently conducted a study about the role of media in emergency management, focusing on the influence of photography (photojournalism) and social media.

In an emergency situation, spreading accurate information to the public is crucial. Since the media plays a major role (usually the primary role) as a source of information for the public, it is of great importance that emergency management agencies work with the media.

Media involvement in the emergency management process can help minimize misunderstanding. The goal is after all, to provide the public with accurate information as quickly as possible. Media agencies are great at doing that.

This means that journalists and government agencies need to work together and establish positive mutual working relationships. However, it is important to note that journalists are not the only source of media.

When most people think of media, they typically only think of newspapers and television. They fail to recognize Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as sources of media that influence their daily lives.

The average person plays an important role in disseminating media messages.

Dennis Dunleavy, my former photojournalism professor at San Jose State University once said, the camera phone made it possible for any individual to become a visual communicator who has the potential to shape the way people perceive events around the world.

Armed with camera phones and social media websites, citizens play a significant role in disaster response and recovery efforts.

Social media makes it easy to communicate and share information with others. As evident with the photographs of Hurricane Sandy, it is easy to share false information that misleads people.

Media literacy education will minimize the harm.

People need to learn how to analyze media messages so that they are not misled by false information. People also need to learn how to use media tools.

Media literacy training provides people with tools that will enrich their lives and create opportunities.

It will also teach them about what is appropriate to share with the rest of the world, so they will not accidentally mislead another.

 

 

References

Gilens, M. (2004). Poor People in the News: Images from the Journalistic Subconscious. In D. Heider (Ed.), Class and News (pp. 44-60). Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Lee, C. and Gandy, O. (2006). “Others’ Disaster: How American Newspapers Covered Hurricane Katrina (Methods, Results, and Discussion)”. University of Pennsylvania.

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