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Can You Separate Fact from Fiction?
May 18, 2015

Man sits next to magazine stand.
As our media consumption increases, so does our need for media literacy. (Adam Jones/Flickr)


In 2014, South Africans spent 8.2 hours a day consuming media on the Internet. They weren’t in the lead. According to market-research firm GlobalWebIndex, Filipinos won that distinction, by spending 9.6 hours a day accessing the Internet from their desktops, laptops and mobile devices.

That is a lot of time. And it underscores the need for people everywhere to be media literate.

What is media literacy?

Whether online, on television or in newspapers, people are bombarded with messages. Media literacy is about understanding how and why messages are being communicated. It starts with asking the right questions: Who created this message? What words or images are used in this message and why? How is this message supposed to make me feel?

Why is media literacy important?

Media literacy teaches you to think critically about the information you consume. These skills — asking relevant questions, exploring multiple viewpoints, making novel connections — aren’t just important in the living room, or wherever else you might watch television or check a smartphone. Critical thinking helps you do well in many pursuits, whether in the classroom or the boardroom.

The Center for Media Literacy has identified five more reasons to understand today’s media-soaked environment:

  1. You need two skills to be engaged citizens of a democracy: critical thinking and self-expression. Media literacy instills both.

  2. You are exposed to more media messages in one day than previous generations were exposed to in a year. Media literacy teaches you the skills to navigate safely through these messages.

  3. Media exerts a significant impact on the way we understand, interpret and act. Media literacy helps you understand outside influences and empowers you to make better decisions.

  4. The world is increasingly influenced by visual images. Learning how to “read” through layers of image-based communication is just as necessary as learning to analyze text-based communication.

  5. Media literacy helps you understand where information comes from, whose interests may be being served and how to find alternative views.

How can I become media literate?

Examine what you read, watch and hear. By doing this often, you’ll become more aware of its purpose and better able to separate fact from fiction. For in-depth resources about media literacy, visit the Center for Media Literacy’s online reading room and the National Association for Media Literacy Education’s resource hub.