One of the things that seems to be getting missed in this whole conversation is media literacy. I agree that platforms need to do more to enforce some basic transparency, but we also need to be educating everyone on how to be more judicious consumers of media. Here’s some more thoughts on why media literacy is so important now.
If you’re falling for any kind of dog-whistle consistently, you should check yourself. If you suddenly feel really good or really angry any time someone mentions Trump, Clinton, Obama, guns, America, religion or the troops, you’re addicted to an ideology.
I can’t remember the name of the book, but there are researchers working with incarcerated populations on breaking emotional scripts related to anger. After a lot of counseling and practice, they’re teaching people to literally put their hands in the air whenever they start to see red and feel themselves overcome with emotion. That serves as a physical stop gap to remind them to step back and examine their thoughts and actions in the moment. So instead of responding thoughtlessly, they’re able to break a script that might otherwise lead to violent reactions.
Media consumption should be no different. We have to train ourselves to recognize when something is triggering the pleasure or anger centers of our brain. Sudden emotional response shouldn’t be a natural reaction to reading the news for information. If that’s what’s happening, we need to develop stop gaps that take us out of the moment and help us examine why we’re having that response and whether it’s justified.
We can beg media outlets to self-police until we’re blue in the face, but we’ve created a media machine that thrives on views and clicks. That means we’re asking them to intentionally act against their own self-interest. Until we hold them to a higher standard than entertainment and vote with our feet when they fail to meet it, this is a problem that will only get worse.