By Danielle Z.
Is mass media in control of us or are we in control of mass media? This may sound like a chicken vs. egg type question with no definite answer. Yes, mass media is constructed in order to appeal to us, the audience, but in recent years we have become integrated into what is considered media today. We the people repost interesting YouTube videos. We the people hashtag “binders full of women”. We the people decide the important issues in the political campaigns of today like never before. We are today’s young adults and web media has given us a voice. Because the lack of gatekeepers on social media sites allows a plethora of misinformation to circulate and carefully constructed political campaigns aim to sway voters one way or another, media literacy is incredibly important as a tool for youth to control this new political voice that web media has provided us.
Historically, mass media has been feared as a “big brother” type of instrument, which a government can use to change the way its citizens think. This fear first became widespread after the emergence of broadcast radio but empirical research soon deconstructed this fear. In fact, a classic study reported that political campaign exposure through mass media resulted in more informed voters who were more likely to vote (Gunther, 16). In a report titled “Critical Media Literacy, Democracy, and the Reconstruction of education”, Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share argue: “a critical media literacy brings an understanding of ideology, power, and domination that challenges relativist and apolitical notions of much media education” (Kellner & Share, 8). Kellner and Share emphasize that educators should address the changes in technology and media in order to empower students. Critical media literacy aids in the active participation of our democratic society and it is foolish to forego media literacy education in favor of ignorance and blind faith in a medium that is meant to influence and persuade.
New tools such as factcheck.org have evolved from this need to be able to differentiate the truth from the exaggeration and misinformation. This is the type of tool that encourages young voters to seek out the truth and make an informed decision regarding politics rather than acting on the information presented by these political campaigns alone. Although websites such as factcheck.org and opensecrets.org aid in media literacy specifically pertaining to politics, it is still important, as an informed voter, to verify if the information provided by websites like these is unbiased. A helpful indicator of this is whether or not these websites are non-profit, non-partisan, and where the majority of donated funds come from. Once you have this information and you are satisfied that this source is unbiased, it is easy to make more informed decisions regarding today’s politics. Factcheck.org’s mission statement includes reducing the amount of “deception and confusion in U.S. politics and this non-profit, non-partisan website provides its fiscal information online for public viewing (factcheck.org/about/).
A 2012 Obama campaign commercial was “checked” by factcheck.org and the misinformation used in this ad was clarified. This ad claims that Romney would make “catastrophic cuts to education” but the editorial that the ad cites only says that Romney aims to cut discretionary spending with no clear indication that this automatically means cuts to education (http://factcheck.org/2012/10/new-obama-ad-repeats-old-distortions/) The ad ran in major swing states and without this factcheck article, many voters would most likely accept the message in this ad without a second thought. In a Romney campaign ad, the former presidential candidate claims that, “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.” In actuality, Chrysler has said that it is only considering adding Jeep production sites to China and that this would have no impact on its U.S. operations (http://factcheck.org/2012/10/romney-distorts-facts-on-jeep-auto-bailout/). Campaigns often sensationalize bits of information in order to shed a negative light on the opponent. Factcheck.org neutralizes these claims without bias and relies on factual information rather than persuasive language and advertisements.
The relationship between greater knowledge and greater youth voter turnout can be viewed through the statistics of young voters in 2000 vs. young voters in 2004. According to CIRCLE, the number of votes cast by 18-29 year olds in the 2004 election increased by 4.2 million voters from the 2000 election (civicyouth.org). In early 2004, factcheck.org came on the scene. I understand that it is misleading to claim that factcheck.org was the reason for this young voter spike. This is simply not true. It is interesting to note, though, that once it became easier to verify the claims of political figures, more young people felt inclined to participate in the democratic process. When comparing the 2004 election with the 2008 election, there was an increase of 3.4 million voters from 2004 (civicyouth.org). In 2008 alone, factcheck.org posted 407 times leading up to the November 2008 election (factcheck.org/archive). That is a lot of disputed and clarified information.
It is very easy to spread political misinformation in today’s era of online immortality. Political figures have been skewing information and using tricky rhetoric to bait the public for hundreds of years and while the Internet makes this easier for politicians, it also makes it easier for the public to see through these smoke screens. Media literacy is a very important skill to learn in order to become an informed voter who can positively contribute to the democratic process with one’s personal view and opinions. Factcheck.org is a helpful website that aids in media literacy and gives young voters who search for the truth the power to make knowledgeable decisions.
"About Us." FactCheckorg. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.
CIRCLE Staff. (November 24th, 2008). Young Voters in the 2008 Presidential Election. The Center For Information & Research On Civic Learning & Engagement, CIRCLE Fact Sheet.
"FactCheck.org : Archives." FactCheckorg. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2013.
Kathleen Barr, Chris Kenney, Mark Hugo Lopez, Karlo Barrios Marcelo. (February 2008). Young Voter Registration and Turnout Trends. The Center For Information & Research On Civic Learning & Engagement. CIRCLE Fact Sheet.
Gunther, Richard, and Anthony Mughan. "Micro-Level Media Effects." Democracy and the Media: A Comparative Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. 16. Print.
Kellner, D., & Share, J. (2007). Critical media literacy, democracy, and the reconstruction of education. In D. Macedo & S.R. Steinberg (Eds.), Media literacy: A reader (pp. 8). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
“New Obama Ad Repeats Old Distortions.” Factcheck.org, N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June. 2013
“Romney Distorts Facts on Jeep, Auto Bailout.” Factcheck.org, N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June. 2013.