My grandfather told me that he had a free Dunkin’ Donuts coupon thanks to a Facebook post. My mom, skeptical, called me to inspect it.

Sure enough, it was from a fake fan-page that was posting counterfeit coupons.

Why is this relevant? With the internet we have access to many different avenues for news, sales, music and more. However, this also has led to the popularity of click-bait articles.

What is clickbait?

Clickbaiting is the new way of getting noticed.

Whether it’s from the ultra-right-wing site your weird uncle only reads or even music magazines like Alternative Press, everyone has read the titles, or even the entire articles, that are filled with salacious wording. This type of news media being produced has triggered a call for better education on media literacy.

Media literacy is defined by the Center for Media Literacy as:

“a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”

Basically, you’re not taking anything at face value.

You logically go through questions as to why the article is written and what it will do for the subject/yourself when reading any type of news.

Headlines like “This Mom Leaves Her Baby In The Crib, and You Won’t BELIEVE What Happens Next” or “Liberal Student Gets OWNED By Republican Speaker” or even list articles like “15 Ways to Know You’re A True Panic! At The Disco Fan” are prime examples of clickbaiting tactics.

Why do we fall for it?

Stanford professor James Hamilton says people consume news based on the Four D’s: Duty, Diversion, Drama and Display. Readers feel as though it’s their civic duty to stay informed, to create a discussion or argument, to present some type of drama in order to showcase, or show-off the knowledge on the topic.

Clicking through some of these articles’ comments section on Facebook or replies on Twitter, shows how aggressive people can get over the piece. Even if they never read the entire story.

Distinguishing fact from fiction is difficult if someone hasn’t been updated on new media tactics.

For example, in one of my undergraduate classes about new media we analyzed photoshop photos and real ones, to determine which were fake. In the end, it’s fairly obvious as to what was doctored based on blur lines, hand placements and discoloration.

Yet there are many people who will not understand the differences simply because they do not have a trained eye to do so.

Who are the majority of people who struggle with media literacy?

A recent study found that people over 65 shared more “fake news” than their younger peers. So, many of these misleading headlines are disseminated across platforms due to the lack of education about how to decipher what is newsworthy, and what has concrete facts partnered with no bias.

This is relevant to my grandfather because he’s 73 and during his time in school, the internet didn’t exist. His main reason for using it is to stay connected with relatives and for basic Google searches. Whereas those under 65 use it for work, school, research, news and more.

While there are a significant amount of Baby Boomers utilizing the internet for sharing relevant “news”, due to the lack of education directed towards them about media literacy and deciphering objective and bias reporting, they are prone to share items that aren’t always 100 percent factual.

Their trust in big media though stands tall. They still believe most of what is reported on large news outlets in part of it being easily accessible to them.  Big media has come under fire within the last few years because of its association with certain political figures and corporations which influence how certain news is reported and covered. And younger media consumers are beginning to turn to independent organizations for all their news needs.

In fact, a Gallup poll found that younger people between 18-29 years old trust big media less than their older counterparts (38-48).

Why go indie?

“When you understand that most outlets are serving some sort of corporate or political agenda, you start to notice how those biases play out in the representation of certain stories, and even in how frequently they’re covered,” says Collective Evolution. There are no ads or contracts to stay in good graces with at times, so reporting about a bad airline flight or against a political candidate won’t heavily impact ratings to the publication or any money loss because there are no partnerships established.

No one is going to limit coverage or kill a story because a sponsor lives in negative light. Independent media will allow these stories to be told and sometimes, they’ve broken larger stories that would never have been addressed if not for a non-traditional news source.

Accessibility

Most indie sites don’t have a paywall and accessibility is open to anyone with access to the internet. Paywalls create a limiting barrier between reader’s and the publication. New York Times and the Chicago Tribune for example have these implemented to encourage payment for the stories being put out.

While this is to benefit writers and their paychecks, it creates limitations to those who may not be able to readily afford to add another twenty dollars to their monthly expenses.

Being able to see news that isn’t skewed is good, there are also negatives to independent media outlets. One of them being alternative sites like Breitbart who report with a heavy alt-right bias. There are many other forms of news media that are similar in the way they write and “report” to try to please their targeted audience. This is one reason why big media can be positive.

Why else is Big Media good?

Because there are often no alliances, reporting can be biased, and facts could go un-checked.

People can create their own publication easily thanks to WordPress or Wix.com and a credit card. From the jump, there is no prerequisite or history of reporting or writing experiences required to create articles.

Jointly, once an article is shared on social media it can be accessed and shared by anyone worldwide.. This can potentially spread misinformation, “fake news” and in the worst instance possible, libel.

Big Media enlists editors, coordinators, news desks, etc. to help maintain the publications credibility while putting out factual, intriguing and breaking news. While it has gone through trials about how it reports on different platforms, these outlets are still seen as reputable in academic and public forum settings.

What’s the verdict?

Ease of accessibility is important and necessary to create equal opportunity for everyone.

In the current political climate where traditional news journalists are often threatened and in danger thanks to “fake news” propaganda, independent outlets are important for stories and information that may otherwise be blocked from the public.

Alternatively, wrong and poorly researched articles can be disseminated quickly without regulation because of this and cause more harm than good. This also creates an echo-sphere of news that could only pose one viewpoint which triggers more biased and non-objective reporting to be forwarded to the reader. And if these readers aren’t versed in how to detect “fake” or leaning media, they will share, comment and continue to spread untrustworthy information.

Being well-informed and aware of the news by researching different sources and openly discussing events with peers is important, even if opinions vary. In the current age of journalism and media distrust, society should be open but critical about the news they are consuming.

We are no longer sponges soaking up information but filters trying to find the facts.

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