Media literacy has always been a comedy inducing topic around the country, but the advent of Covid-19 has given it a completely new dimension. It is sometimes hilarious when that uncle from last generation shares an article about an interview with coronavirus unironically, but readers of these articles exist who are doing real life threatening stunts based on the information from those shares. Every media illiterate person sharing unbelievably strange “facts” and “news” articles is becoming an accomplice to yellow journalism that can have fatal results. Therefore it is time we started educating our family members, colleagues, neighbours, friends, classmates and in some cases celebrities who do not know the burden of responsibilities they carry. Before educating them, we need to know what to address here.
This urge of ignoring the facts generally comes from the tendency to believe in nothing that the person cannot prove himself/herself, which is ironically a very scientific way to look at things, but that is where the similarity ends. For an extreme example, the members of flat earth society exist because they cannot go to space and see the earth for themselves. On February 22, 2020, a flat-earther called Mike Hughes died because he wanted to test his theory using homemade rockets. To this sort of people, the system is always lying for some kind of far fetched reason. Education can be the cure for many of these, but the question still remains. How can they believe anything any authority says? As a result they take a dangerous road, which is believing in the news sources they like. That is a plunge into a never ending rabbit hole giving rise to cults and angry (uninformed) mobs. They question the authority, but they do not put those special news sources on the same pedestal. Otherwise, just the process of elimination of the least believable, they would reach a standard level of conclusion. A fact cannot be fake just because you do not like it.Before teaching others we need to question ourselves, how much verification do we do before we believe a news source? In the golden age of newspapers, even we Bangladeshi people were more media literate. We knew which newspaper is supposed to write what sort of articles and what to believe from what. Those newspapers are more dependable even now because they have to answer for their publications and they have physical entities against which actions can be taken by the governments. On the other hand, the online websites do not have to answer to anyone if they are not linked to any established organization. When you go forward to share a link, remember that you can also create your own website with a good looking domain name under Tk. 500 and write whatever you like without any proof or source and it will look just as beautiful as a professional website. If you can make it more shocking and spicy, you can even earn money from these articles by putting advertisements on your website. Since money is a big motivation behind shocking and unbelievable headlines, should you still believe any online website full of attractive news articles?
This sort of reporting started with lesser evils known as “clickbaits”. You put a really misleading title on top of a somewhat valid news and get clicks which earns you money, but now the competition is fierce and lying is just another casualty of online journalism. If it is a very exciting or a world changing news, it should not come from dhakanews365x24x7.com. Even if it does, there should be ten more reputable news websites writing on the same topic. Why? Because if you are a scientist who just invented the vaccine for COVID-19, deshihappynews.info cannot be the first website where you inform about your grand success at the very first. Every news source you trust should have an established entity and even then you should know their general bias. Fox news in the USA has been criticised vehemently for downplaying the impacts of corona at every step. Their viewers still believe that COVID-19 at its worst is a flu. Their role had consequences that should be measured with death counts. Therefore, you should not only look for news sources who have physical entities, but also for their bias for or against the cause.
That colleague or the uncle who shares weird news links from questionable websites can be a good source of fun for a while, but it is time we looked at the impact this type of people are causing. People are believing that Thankuni leaves will keep them safe from corona or a star called Suraiya will end this pandemic forever. It is also not funny when they believe that corona will not attack a specific religion and get killed by this false sense of security. People have also died from ingesting unproven medicines in unprescribed ways. Why? Because we did not stop that uncle from sharing about that miracle cure that can be the remedy against all the diseases from corona to cancer. Media literacy should be a separate subject from school level since the students are exposed to the complete maddening varieties of internet from that stage and are totally unprotected from this scary competition of getting clicks and shares. Till then, it is our duty to refine our internet practices and also inform others since we are the only ones “cursed with knowledge”.
Writer: Irtisam Ahmed, Assistant Professor, Department of English, American International University-Bangladesh
BDST: 1246 HRS, MAY 02, 2020