Unplugging is hard. So much of our lives are tied to technology. We use it to manage our schedules, to keep up with our social acquaintances, to research our questions. The important, the urgent, and the things that can wait all reach us in a similar way, making it difficult to differentiate between the three.
Unplugging means disconnecting from our people. At a time when there is already so much social distance in the world, the idea of unplugging can feel overwhelming or impossible. For most of us, the positive aspects of social media certainly outweigh the negative ones, so it is more important than ever that we consider our own media literacy to differentiate facts from fake news and misinformation.
Our online identities are an extension of ourselves, so it is not surprising that the way we interact online, and our exposure to online content, impacts our sense of self in real life. As a country, we are experiencing a vulnerable time in which people are unsure who or what to trust, particularly online. Anxiety, depression and substance use are all rising during this global pandemic, and online misinformation campaigns have the potential to exacerbate symptoms for some clients. Counselors might find themselves in situations where they need to address clients’ mental health concerns without straying too far into politics.
Here are some recommendations and resources that might help counselors in this work, particularly over the next few weeks or months, as the results of one of the most contentious elections in American history draws to a close. Regardless of our political leanings, our ethical responsibility to empower our clients toward wellness creates a need for new media literacy tools in our toolboxes.
Read laterally: Use fact-checking sites like snopes.com to research news items and social media posts. They can usually tell you if the item is misinformation, malinformation (i.e. propaganda) or an outright hoax. For example, search Snopes for “shark on highway after Hurricane Harvey in Texas.”
Conduct a reverse image search: Hover your mouse over the image, right click on the image and select “search Google for image.” You will see other places the image has been used. Again, you will find out pretty quickly if the image is credible.
Determine the perspective of the source: Look for the “about us” page. Keep an eye out for “paid content.” And, when visiting news sources, look for their editorial ethics page.
The following resources can help you strengthen your social media skills:
- Pew Research Center —- A nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world
- The Sift —- A free weekly newsletter published by The News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan national education nonprofit, that explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses media and press freedom topics and discusses social media trends and issues
- Spot the Troll — An interactive game that allows players to read a brief selection of posts from a single social media account or “profile” and then decide if each is an authentic account or a professional troll. After each profile, you’ll review the signs that can help you determine if it’s a troll or not.
- Lamboozled: The Media Literacy Card Game — A card game designed to help youth develop media literacy skills.
@TechCounselor’s Instagram is @techcounselor.
Adria S. Dunbar is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She has more than 15 years of experience with both efficient and inefficient technology in school settings, private practice and counselor education. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meghan Manfra is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences at North Carolina State University. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and two daughters. Contact her at email@example.com.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.