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‘Denali’ is not Kenyan for ‘black power’: St. Louis educator highlights importance of media literacy

St. Louis educator Julie Smith joined "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh to talk about her new book on media literacy.
Alex Heuer

Earlier this week President Barack Obama announced his decision to change the name of North America’s tallest peak from Mt. McKinley to Denali, the native Alaskan name.

Soon after, a meme began circulating on social media claiming Denali as the Kenyan word for “black power.” The meme’s false but viral assertion earned it PolitiFact’s most notorious rating of “Pants on Fire.” And, aside from being completely false, the website pointed out that Kenyan isn’t even a language.

It’s examples such as this that provide a compendium of what it’s like to be surrounded by misinformation in an ever-increasing digital environment.

“A lot of times we tend to share and believe messages that already affirm our held beliefs because that makes us feel good,” said Julie Smith, who joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh.

Smith is a media literacy educator and the author of “Master the Media: How Teaching Media Literacy Can Save Our Plugged-in World.”

But what exactly is media literacy?

“It’s the ability to critically analyze and evaluate the media we consume daily,” Smith said.

And, while Smith acknowledged that it’s a lofty goal for media literacy to “save” the world, she explained that media literate evaluation would make people smarter consumers, voters and less likely to be sheep.

The first step toward media literacy, Smith said, is to increase awareness about what it means to be media literate. “There are all of these studies about how we use the media, but there’s no work about how the media uses us,” she said.

Smith added that promoting education about media literacy in schools is also a key step.

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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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.