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Figuring out what’s real, what isn’t in the media

Larry Morris, left, and Art Silverblatt talk to ‘St. Louis on the Air’ host Don Marsh about media literacy and critical thinking on Feb. 26, 2015.
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio
Larry Morris, left, and Art Silverblatt talk to ‘St. Louis on the Air’ host Don Marsh about media literacy and critical thinking on Thursday.";s:

You’ve likely seen Facebook or Twitter posts from friends or family members that link to information that seems almost but not quite plausible. Those stories often are about politicians; recently several surfaced that purported to be about Michael Brown. How can you figure out if the video or story is real or not? It comes down to critical thinking and media literacy.

“When you are checking on what people are saying, it’s a form of respect,” Art Silverblatt told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Thursday. Silverblatt teaches a media literacy course at Webster University, and is the vice president of Gateway Media Literacy Partners. “It’s not necessarily an attack on them or undermining them. We want to take them seriously, take what they say seriously, and so we make sure that what’s being represented is accurate.”

Social media has added a new sense of immediacy to media, which can be detrimental to getting to the truth of a matter. People are more willing to accept and repeat things with which they agree than to research whether it’s true or not, said Larry Morris, a media communications graduate student at Webster University. It’s important to ask questions about things you agree with and disagree with, he said.

“Even if I don’t have the time to completely go through it, I might look at it, save it and come back to it later before I repost it because you don’t want to put something out there that you can’t pull back,” Morris said. “Once it’s in the social media world, it’s there. If you have interest in it, look at it, grab it, hold on to it and when you get the chance, take a look at it.”

After all, as Silverblatt said, “Nobody likes to be a schnook; nobody likes to be played.”

While the Internet has made it easier to spread false or misleading information, it also has made it easier to verify what is and isn’t true, said Eugene Kiely, director of FactCheck.org, a nonprofit and nonpartisan site that monitors the accuracy of what major U.S. politicians say in ads, debates, speeches and interviews.

Kiely said that a lot of the information his organization fact-checks include pieces of truth.

“Something may be false, and that’s fine,” he said. “But more often we find that it is true but taken out of context, or true but not the whole story. Once you start putting some context around these facts, then they’re better understood.”

Understanding where information is coming from, and any potential agenda that source may have, also is important, Morris said. Even then, it pays to keep asking questions and to gather information from multiple sources. NBC News anchor Brian Williams and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly recently have been accused of falsifying reports.

“When we have Brian Williams not telling us the truth, then we look for places to get our information from and it creates this cycle of who do you believe,” Morris said. “And then it goes back to the person: Are they able to sift through what’s real and what’s not?”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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