“The Black and White Sides of News”
College Writing 2, Dr. Richard Foss
After writing this piece, I came to realize how much I have grown in regards to my information literacy. Although it can still be difficult to find accurate information at times, this project really helped me reflect on the skills and techniques that I have learned in order to get the most accurate information possible. It also helped me realize how big of a role my family has played in how I view the world and what information I trust. Overall, writing this essay showed me the importance of reflecting on how our past experiences can greatly shape our daily lives.
Excerpt from “The Black and White Sides of News”
“I began to wonder about information and its effects on daily life when I was just six years old. On a cloudless, warm summer morning in June, I was walking down the block to my best friend Hannah’s house. After my mom dropped me off, we went for a swim in Hannah’s pool to stay cool from the heat of the sun. Hannah’s mom was taking pictures of us, and I remember her saying, “These will be great for Facebook!” I was confused about what she meant. I came home later that day and asked my parents what this “Facebook” was all about, marking the birth of my information literacy journey. They explained to me that it was a website where people share pictures and ideas. In awe that such a thing existed, I wondered why anyone would want to display pictures they had taken or give their ideas out for everyone to see. I also began to wonder why my parents had never used Facebook for themselves. When they got their news from WGN or the newspaper, they gave me a basic idea of what was going on in the world, such as how President Obama was handling issues overseas, but they never elaborated much. Nevertheless, I did not push. My dad was a chemistry and physics teacher at a prestigious academy and my mom was a high school math teacher. They knew how to solve a math problem using the quadratic formula, so I figured they knew all the answers about the world. I never questioned what I heard from my parents or on the news; I just went along with it because they did. By having this viewpoint, I perceived the world as trustworthy, which led me to not question anything I read. When presented with an article in school, I trusted the words on the page because it was what I did as I grew up. My information literacy was weak, as I did not yet realize the importance of ensuring that what I read was true.”
The Black and White Sides of News
by April Clancy
My family has always been traditional. While we celebrate holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas with stuffed turkeys and mountains of glistening presents under the tree, we have been especially traditional in how we obtain current information, such as the latest news on politics or climate change. When I was younger, my parents had flip phones long after everyone else had switched over to smartphones because in their words, “they still did the job just fine.” Consequently, they also never had social media. They did not want to fret about “missing out” on the fun other people were posting about or feel obligated to post the latest pictures from a sunny soccer game on a Saturday morning for a few likes. Without a direct access to social media news, we obtained our news in an alternative fashion. My mom, rapidly smearing on makeup and brushing her tangled, dark hair, would watch the WGN morning news in the family room. My dad, eating a crispy, buttered bagel and sipping steaming hazelnut coffee, would sit at the kitchen table with the newspaper sprawled out in front of him. I never knew exactly what was happening on the TV or under the bold headlines of the paper, but I received a brief summary from my parents from time to time. From the information that flowed into my ears, the world seemed like a dependable place to find information; my parents were trusting of the news, so I was, too. However, as I grew up, I unearthed a variety of online news sources that had a wide range of political viewpoints. The combination of growing up with my parents and later discovering different news sources for myself has led me to be more cautious of the information that I read and hear and to take action to find the most accurate information possible in order to make informed decisions in my everyday life.
I began to wonder about information and its effects on daily life when I was just six years old. On a cloudless, warm summer morning in June, I was walking down the block to my best friend Hannah’s house. After my mom dropped me off, we went for a swim in Hannah’s pool to stay cool from the heat of the sun. Hannah’s mom was taking pictures of us and I remember her saying, “These will be great for Facebook!” I was confused about what she meant. I came home later that day and asked my parents what this “Facebook” was all about, marking the birth of my information literacy journey. They explained to me that it was a website where people share pictures and ideas. In awe that such a thing existed, I wondered why anyone would want to display pictures they had taken or give their ideas out for everyone to see. I also began to wonder why my parents had never used Facebook for themselves. When they got their news from WGN or the newspaper, they gave me a basic idea of what was going on in the world, such as how President Obama was handling issues overseas, but they never elaborated much. Nevertheless, I did not push. My dad was a chemistry and physics teacher at a prestigious academy and my mom was a high school math teacher. They knew how to solve a math problem using the quadratic formula, so I figured they knew all the answers about the world. I never questioned what I heard from my parents or on the news; I just went along with it because they did. By having this viewpoint, I perceived the world as trustworthy, which led me to not question anything I read. When presented with an article in school, I trusted the words on the page because it was what I did as I grew up. My information literacy was weak, as I did not yet realize the importance of ensuring that what I read was true.
When I reached junior high, I became more aware of the rapidly growing information around me. More people than ever before were able to watch the latest speech given by the president from a device in their back pocket rather than on a grainy, robot television with antennae reaching to the sky. It seemed as if all of my friends had smartphones and access to news from their favorite apps, while I was left having to wait until the end of junior high to get one of my own. During this time, I continued to believe most of what I read on social media without questioning much about it. Then, on my 14th birthday, I destroyed the colorful paper covered in balloons tightly wrapped around my present and saw the rose gold treasure before my very eyes: a smartphone. I could not stop bouncing up and down like a kangaroo as I opened the pristine white box. After shoveling the rich chocolate cake into my mouth, I spent hours setting up my contacts and texting my friends about all the rage. In my pubescent, teenage mind, all I could think about was FaceTiming my friends and getting my own Snapchat account.
In the first few days with my new phone, I felt free and independent. Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, I spread my wings and flew after the long-awaited day. Eventually, days turned into weeks, and I began to be exposed to the plethora of news sources on social media. I read headlines that had to do with topics from celebrity drama between Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift to the latest claims and conspiracy theories about climate change. Shocked by these headlines, I read the articles, as any intrigued teenager would do. I tumbled into the dark hole of media where lots of false information and conspiracy theories lurked in the shadows. I read the articles as my main news source without considering the possibility that the information could be inaccurate. In a discussion over dinner, my dad and I started talking about a recent event that he had read about in the newspaper.
He advised me, “April, maybe you should read the newspaper or watch the news on television instead of reading about the news on your phone all the time.”
“But why would I watch the news or read the newspaper when I could just look things up super easily online?” I queried.
My dad remarked, “The Internet is useful, but not everything on it is trustworthy. There’s a lot more biased information about things like Trump and politics on your phone than in the paper or on TV.”
As I swirled my peas around on my plate, I listened to him, but I mostly nudged off the advice, thinking that I could judge for myself what was true and what was not. However, after this conversation, I began to view the world around me as a place of uncertainty. As a young teenager, it was difficult for me to find the facts and have confidence in what was true, despite my original thoughts. There was a constant storm swirling around in my brain. It was the beginning of the “fake news” era sparked by President Trump, so the articles from Buzzfeed and CNN conflicted with what I was hearing at home; my parents were saying that President Trump was untrustworthy when articles I read were supportive of his policies. Some Democrats were discussing the reality of climate change while some Republicans were denying that humans play a role in it; my world became a place where many issues were based on political views instead of the facts themselves. I was unsure of what to believe for a while. Determined to combat my uncertainty, I began to strengthen my information literacy skills. I realized that if I wanted to obtain information about the world and dodge the attached political opinions, I would have to work for it. I started by reading articles written by reputable and more politically-centered sources such as The Wall Street Journal and Reuters (Cutter). I determined what sources were the most reputable by using a tool I had learned throughout my junior high school career. My teachers encouraged us to look at information on an article such as the author, the date, the publisher, and other information about the writers that would estimate their credibility on the topic. After reading about a certain topic from these articles, I would go to the news on television to see if they were reporting similar information. For example, if I read a report about Donald Trump supporting a policy, I wanted to make sure it was true by checking a variety of sources. Getting the most accurate information was important to me because I did not want to be uninformed about what was happening in our country, even if I was still too young to cast a vote. I wanted to help myself and others receive factual information in order to slow the spread of false or biased reports, which could have further led to misinformed decisions for those who could vote. Taking these steps helped me get reliable facts as I progressed towards high school, which was a time where the issue of fake news grew larger than ever before.
More recently, TikTok became a popular app among teens, with short videos on topics ranging from comedy to art to politics. The TikTok algorithm tends to generate videos to a certain user’s liking, so a majority of the videos that have come up on my page have been in line with my beliefs. One day, only a few days after I downloaded the app, I came across a political, anti-Trump video. I was drawn in and I dove into the comments to see what others were saying about the points the speaker brought up. When I came across comments that were similar to my beliefs on the issue, I would click to see the replies, submerging myself into the argument without evidence to support the claims. These types of ideas have become seemingly more common in the U.S., as the Internet tends to gather “half-baked ideas” and other factoids to display to the world, when, in fact, those ideas may not be true (Nichols 15-16). At first, I almost fell into the trap because the video and many comments were in line with my beliefs, but I chose to do more research before stepping further. When I come across these comments now, I try to immediately scour a variety of sources for raw facts on the topic. By using reliable sources such as scholarly articles, newspapers, and television news, I have been able to get lots of accurate information on topics that may have been exaggerated by social media users. Although it has been difficult to avoid any kind of political bias along with these facts, I put forth my best effort to focus on the information rather than the opinion that may be present with it.
Being the one without a smartphone and social media platforms was difficult, but I now realize that my parents wanted to protect me from the dark conspiracies and arguments that come with news and media. However, without being equipped with ways to combat false information at a young age, once I got my hands on a smartphone, I discovered it for myself. Despite facing this difficulty with my information, I can now see the divide on both sides of the news. I was able to see the distortions for myself and now I avoid getting my news from social media if it is unsupported by evidence to back up the claims. Whenever I want to learn about a certain topic in the world today, I take several steps in order to avoid false information and bias where possible. I do my best to find sources that avoid one-sided politics and are known for being reliable, such as The Wall Street Journal or Reuters. When possible, I also try to use scholarly articles that are written by experts in a certain field. In addition, I try to find multiple sources that present similar information about a topic. For example, if I am looking for information about climate change, I try to read at least three sources, so that I do not base everything off of one source in case it happens to give biased or political information that may not be true. I want to make use of these lessons throughout my college career as I cast my first vote in the 2020 presidential election and pursue my major in nursing at Lewis University. By using these methods, I hope that I can stay correctly informed about political and healthcare news, which will be crucial when it comes to my country’s future and my future career. Although I was oblivious to the challenges that would come to me on social media when I was that little girl swimming and getting her picture taken for a Facebook post, I am now able to search for the facts on a reliable news source and make decisions for myself instead of using the opinions on social media to sway me.