The Decline of Media Literacy in America

This year, we may need to be more cautious about the content we consume.

The Decline of Media Literacy in America (Getty Images)

You’ve probably seen the term “Media literacy is dead” plastered everywhere on the internet lately. With the rise of social media and content creation, this concern about literacy and lack of critical thinking might pose an even bigger threat to consumers.

Media literacy, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is the ability to critically analyze any story or event presented in the media to determine its accuracy or credibility. Paired with the overwhelming mass of information available at our fingertips, the need for media literacy in the Internet Age is apparent. Renee Hobbs of Aspen Institute said, “People need the ability to access, analyze and engage in critical thinking about the array of messages they receive and send in order to make informed decisions about the everyday issues they face regarding health, work, politics and leisure.”

Although the discussion about media literacy is being highlighted, this problem has been brewing for decades. For example, shows like “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” were created to tackle a central issue in 60s television. Most programs were hardly educational, only trying to sell goods to kids through flashy advertisements (Sound familiar?). Author and journalist Michael Davis stated that the goal of “Sesame Street” was to “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them.” Because at the end of the day, all mass communication is motivated by profit, politics, or personal factors.

Even decades prior to the massive expansion of the internet, people acknowledged the necessity of conscious consumption. In the current era, mass communication dominates our everyday lives. Media both directly and indirectly shapes, informs, and affects our beliefs and behaviors. With groves of distracting information, the ability to discern truth from fiction is more important now than ever.

@itsyagurlltt #medialiteracy #socialmedia #culture #criticism #education #fyp ♬ original sound – Danny

TikTok user Danny (@itsyagurlltt) commented not only on the decline of media literacy but also the hostile environment created by the internet. Artificial fear of being wrong is created because of the way disagreements are handled online. The internet’s want for a singular correct opinion on every topic under the sun encourages the death of nuance and ambiguity. 

“It’s strange because we have access to oceans of information but literacy is declining,” one commenter under the name “Infinite Possibilities” said. “People think reading an article in Newsweek is the same as having high scientific literacy and being able to sort through hundreds of journal articles for sources.”

X user @Inorifading wrote, “Whenever you go a little bit in depth on something you watched or read people always say ‘stop making me think about’ or the classic ‘it’s not that deep.’ Having any view on a piece of art is an attack on their escapism.”

Taking any media for what it presents on the surface level inherently neglects the hard work that goes into creating a piece of art. This is also the exact reason why AI art is so tone-deaf. It seeks to make an imitation of decades worth of skills developed by talented artists.

Without a doubt, a society that refuses to engage in critical thinking and takes the information it sees and hears for face value cannot defend itself from disinformation. A faulty news article can spread like wildfire out of fear. A reactionary video can be seen as real when its only goal is to gain likes and views. 

Inevitably, although Gen Z was not the first to encounter this issue, Gen Z can fight for the right to education and a more intellectual future. Becoming a better and more critical consumer will be a tremendously useful skill as the internet and social media become more and more complex for generations to come.

Knives Nguyen (she/they/he), is a journalist from the Bay Area who covers entertainment, culture and student life. You can connect with them on LinkedIn: @knivesnguyen.

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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