MODULE 2 - DECRYPTING INFORMATION
SESSION 3 : INFORMATION AND DISINFORMATIONEducational sheet 7
CHAPTER 7 – THINKING CRITICALLY ABOUT INFORMATION
Level : Intermediate
Objective 1: Understanding what it means to think critically and the importance of thinking critically about information
Objective 2: Knowing and applying journalistic principles when searching for information
Objective 3: Learning about the central issue of verifying sources
Critical thinking: a core concept of media literacy
When it comes to media literacy, critical thinking means paying close attention to available information by researching the topic and finding evidence for that information. It is about having a critical eye that does not overgeneralise, jump to conclusions, or blindly accept received wisdom, prejudices, and baseless allegations. In general, critical thinking means thinking autonomously, rationally, and deliberately. It also means being able to analyse and understand media content while bearing in mind the author’s motive.
Critical thinking is based on three principles:
- The principle of autonomy: being able to think for yourself, independently of the people and environment around you.
- The principle of self-awareness: knowing the limits of your understanding of events and knowing how your own cognitive biases and emotions as well as others’ can affect our judgment and beliefs.
- The principle of learning: Critical thinking is learned and acquired through the knowledge and discoveries that lead to intellectual awakening. Specific examples of critical thinking include comparing hypotheses and checking the sources of information.
In concrete terms, thinking critically about media means being committed to the following practices:
- Being informed: Taking the time to become informed, seeking out information and understanding it before judging it, commenting on it, or sharing it.
- Evaluating information: Identifying and checking sources before endorsing the information
- Differentiating fact from interpretation: Separating actual facts from interpretations of events.
- Seeking interpretations: Familiarising oneself with different interpretations that a piece of information might elicit and accepting this diversity.
- Categorising interpretations: Classifying in order of legitimacy the interpretations confirmed by experimentation and research, hypothesis, and opinions arising from belief.
How journalists verify information
Critical thinking is the heart of journalism, which involves examining information thoroughly before publishing it. To do this, a journalist needs to inquire, investigate, and find sources. They analyse facts and possible explanations and put them into perspective.
The practice of journalism is even more vital in today’s digital society where false information, doctored images, and manipulated videos run rampant on the internet.
In media literacy education, the journalistic practice of verifying information has been condensed down to a list of best practices to accommodate a young audience:
- Find out about the site where you found the information. The ‘Legal Notices’ and ‘About’ sections will usually tell you what kind of website you are looking at (blog, humour site, government, etc.).
- Trace the information back to its source. Quite often on the internet, information is shared, spread, and sometimes also distorted, decontextualised, or interpreted. It is therefore important to find out where the information came from.
- Check the information’s publication date. These days, information quickly becomes outdated or is confirmed or denied.
- Check the identity and reliability of the author of the information. Is it a journalist? Are they a specialist in the subject?
- Identify their aims and intentions. Are they looking to inform? Manipulate? Are they selling something?
- Ask the right questions. Be curious and question the author without becoming distrustful or paranoid.
Why it is important to check sources
The source is where information comes from, its starting point. When we talk about finding out where information comes from, we call it ‘tracing it back to the source’.
Cross-checking information is one of the most important and fundamental rules of journalism. Information is moving ever faster, partly due to the explosion of social media and to economic pressures, which have sadly taken a toll on this principle.
A reliable source is usually a qualified person or entity – an expert or informed person on a subject – who is giving information on that subject.
To increase reliability and the chance of being considered correct, information needs to found and confirmed by other sources or be viewable on other media. We say that information must be corroborated to be verified.
There are four main kinds of source:
- Institutional sources: public authorities, governments;
- Intermediary sources: NGOs, professional organisations, political parties, trade unions;
- Personal sources: discreet or secret sources that the journalist has amongst the powerful and within professional circles;
- Occasional sources: spontaneous sources, statements provided voluntarily or on request depending on circumstances, eyewitness reports.