Juan Rodriguez: The best weapon we have to protect our democracy is media literacy

(Julio Cortez | AP photo) In this Jan. 20, 2017, photo, Pat Winters Lauro, a journalism professor at Kean University in Union, N.J., leads a class discussion talking about fake news. Teachers from elementary school through college have been ramping up media literacy training to recognize bogus reports and understand their potential to weaken civic culture.

Consider the last time you were a victim of a keyboard warrior’s fury — or, alternatively, consider the last time you were the warrior defending your argument and position — and ask yourself: Was the information that I read factually correct, or did it just feel like it?

Frequently, we are bombarded on social media, in everyday interactions and at home with information that we have to decipher to determine whether or not stems from a reputable source. The past two decades have seen a shift of individuals receiving their news from the cable box and television, to social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like. But one thing that has become strikingly clear, particularly in the past four years, has been American’s lack of media literacy.

In 2015, Donald Trump announced that he would be running for the presidency. Too often, he would dismiss news organizations and publications as disseminating “fake news,” increasingly so if it was critical of him as a candidate.

After winning the presidency, Trump continued his attack on news organizations and promoted Fox News and other media with conservative biases as being factually accurate. In recent weeks, Trump has told Americans that hydroxychloroquine is an effective drug to combat COVID-19, but the realities are that many studies disprove that claim. However, to Trump’s credit, he is promoting a drug that requires a prescription, and no longer telling people to inject themselves with bleach and drink hand sanitizer.

Too often, we see Trump and Trump officials twisting data to better serve their political agenda. But there’s a difference between trying to paint something in a different light and outright lying to the American people.

I’m 24 years old, and am still struggling to grapple with the realities of our country. I grew up with the internet, and with individuals who would constantly say, “Don’t believe everything that is on the internet.” Yet, six years after graduating from high school, I am worried by the circulating publications I see on the internet, because many that are shared on social media are opinion pieces and videos, conspiracy theories and digitally-aged memes. Rather than our opinions and arguments being based on science and facts, they’re being influenced by our political inclinations.

The best weapon we have as Americans in this time of fake news is media literacy. The realities are that news publications will always have liberal or conservative biases. Our job is to read from both types of sources to formulate our own opinion about the event, article or situation, rather than depending on only one perspective.

Over the course of the next three months, Americans must remain vigilant and do everything to safeguard and protect our democracy. The media has never been the enemy of the people. The purpose of the media has always been to inform. It is imperative that we consider where the news that we’re digesting comes from, whether it is from a reputable source (such as major news publications or websites with .gov, .edu or .org addresses) or if there’s an ulterior message that the publication wants readers to spread across all platforms (websites funded by corporations, individuals with a personal agenda, etc).

Next time you read an article, commentary or watch a video and feel inclined to share, think critically where this information is coming from and what’s the purpose behind it.

The best weapon we have to protect our democracy is only a click away.

Juan Rodriguez, Logan, is involved in local politics and in the Latinx community in Northern Utah. He has a degree in history and political science from Utah State University.