How powerful is the truth. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth,” wrote Henry David Thoreau.
But finding the truth can sometimes be difficult. According to a survey by Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, after the 2016 election, 64% of Americans reported that made-up news can blur basic facts and current events. They noted that false reporting causes confusion.
Now more than ever we are bombarded by misinformation. And in the age of Covid-19, that is especially true when it comes to cures, vaccinations, and causes. It even undermines public trust and encourages behavior not advised by actual medical experts. Also, the absence of clear facts can skew decision making at the polls.
Through the organization Mediawise, a group of prominent journalists and influencers are devoted to helping to empower people of all ages to be more critical of content online. They also help reduce the spread of misinformation. MediaWise is a nonpartisan digital media literacy program led by the non-profit organization The Poynter Institute and created with support from Google.org as part of Google News Initiative.
Mediawise exists to improve the public’s fact checking ability. When citizens are better armed with tools and skills, they become less likely to believe misinformation from unverified news sources and less likely to further spread misinformation on social media.
And now, with the MediaWise Ambassador program a group of prominent journalists and influencers are working to educate people through in-person and virtual training events, online educational videos, and fact-checking content.
With the most contentious election in a generation less than two months away, MediaWise recently added three powerhouse ambassadors to their team: Former CNN Chief White House Correspondent and Instagram journalist Jessica Yellin of News Not Noise, CBS Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan and PBS NewsHour correspondent Amna Nawaz. They will help lead the charge on the MediaWise Voter Project, (#MVP2020), a new initiative launched with support from Facebook, to teach first-time voters how to find reliable information online about the United States Presidential Election.
“First-time voters need help figuring out how to find reliable, accurate information online about the election and that’s what the MediaWise Voter Project is all about,” said MediaWise Editor Katy Byron, a former Snapchat managing editor and CNN producer. She adds that veteran journalists and MediaWise Ambassadors Yellin, Nawaz and Brennan meticulously fact-check their work and understand the importance of teaching those skills to the masses. Other ambassadors include Christiane Amanpour, Dave Jorgenson and Joan Lunden.
For Brennan, the issues gravitate towards ethics, not politics. “There are certain things that you cannot afford to ignore in life. The success of this democracy requires the electorate to stay informed and to push it to constantly evolve by participating in its decision making,” she explains. “Generations of disenfranchised, including women and people of color had to fight to win you this opportunity to participate. You owe it to them to use that voice.”
The Ambassadors will contribute to MediaWise’s Voter Guide and “How to Vote in Every State” series on YouTube along with other programs. As the pandemic and election season collides, Nawaz stresses the importance of these voter-specific resources. “The election this year will be as much about preparing for how to cast your ballot, as it will be about who you cast your ballot for,” says Nawaz. “In the swirl of misinformation, and with all the concerns around safely voting in the middle of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that everyone who is eligible to vote, has to plan for how to do that.”
So how can voters become more responsible citizen fact-checkers? “Find journalists you trust. Follow them and follow the people they trust. That’s one way I discover new credible sources,” says Yellin.
To learn how to find someone you trust Yellin suggests you find someone who uses facts you can check on your own. “MediaWise has excellent advice on how to fact check,” she advises. For example if a reporter says that children are missing, listen for details and specifics you can confirm, like when, where, how do they know, who was involved? “Find someone who speaks in a way you understand with context, without too much jargon,” says Yellin. “And it helps if they have experience working in a newsroom for a recognizable news organization. Gather opinion from family and friends about who they trust. Ask mentors you respect for referrals about who they trust and check them out.”
Understandably, you will never know everything or be 100% certain of the facts. But, as Yellin advises, “All you can do is get informed, show up, vote and do your best to pick someone who will help create the future you want.”