Oct. 28, 2019

Media Literacy

Having only one source of information and having multiple sources of information, which one is better?

I grew up reading books and listening to the state TV and considered everything I heard represented the truth. Relying on one source of information is much simpler for me as an end-user. I don’t have to tune in or ignore, to store or discard, to accept or disagree. Processing on one source of information about history, what was happening, explaining logic, reasons and everything in between is simple and almost effortless.

Today, teenagers and adults alike are in a different situation to receive and make sense of a piece of information. For adults, they are presumably equipped with more tools and experience to deal with multiple sources of information, and how to find the truth, the lie or more often, to navigate to find more trusted sources of information. The youngsters unarguably are experiencing a harder time to focus and select on credible sources for a piece of information. The options are:

  • books: many types of books, most printed books which have some screening process,
  • websites: this considered be a larger collection of any online publications that are accessible through Internet
  • social apps: mostly Facebook, Zalo, Instagram, other private chat forum.

Although I listed Facebook and other social apps at least because of the fast-moving news cycles where everyone is entitled to their opinion, and to the extent that every thoughts, rumors, inaccurate analysis treated as an expert matter. The multi-media platform provides more intuitive and catchy form of information such as picture, video, memes with real people and real story.

The cycle continues. When you believe what you felt likely to the truth without giving alternative views a second thought, you fall into a “confirmation bias” fallacy. In short, you believe in what you want to believe. You are looking for a source of information to support and confirm your view. You are in a trench for a particular and possible biased view or an opinion. You discard and disavow for the information or sources of that contradict your view, and your belief.

I am particularly worry about the youngsters not because their energy to learn and their support parents to dream and explore new horizons. I am worry that their lack of training on media literacy leads them expose to biased views about the world, what is happening, what is the right vs wrong. They are the future of the country, and without giving them the training to prepare for ever more chaotic future, we have done a disservice to them by presenting everything would be fine and the adults are doing well.

It better to be, but it maybe, maybe not. The discordance of traditional teaching, out-of-date information exacerbates the learning attitude of the youngsters. This brings them more susceptible to mis-information and be extreme in their view that could lead to their real action. Don’t think too far. Extremist view occurs around the world, not only in Vietnam, but not to know the danger of ill-prepared for media literacy in a multi-dimensional world is concerning, to say the least.

Media literacy was a new concept to me until I took an online MOOC course brought by then-my University. The simple ideas are:

  • to seek the truth, check multiple (and independent) sources
  • only seek from credible sources
  • give alternative views of only the matter. Instead of asking what is this, asking what if it is not?
  • look at the problem from a skeptical view, assume nothing and learn from the tscratch

There are a lot of works to go through those bullet points. The untruth presents itself resembles similar to the truth. Egregious errors made when one so firmly believe what might have been the truth (but it is not), and negate and leave out other clues that helps finding the true North (and go South).

The recent incidents with AirVisual from a discussion of how it acquires data, a conspiracy that AirVisual “intended” ranked Hanoi a the top groups of polluted cities to profit from from selling air filters, then its come to how to data is not represent the whole city. The users has been strongly pointed out what has been wrong with the representation of the data. In a simpler term, how one point of data could be represented for a larger area, for the whole city like Hanoi perhaps. The short answer is no. Abstraction is inaccurate which someone may said is wrong.

I don’t want to dig into the terminology here but saying some information is wrong is very different that saying something is inaccurate. In practice, it is not possible to get a few data point and extrapolate for a whole city. But why we ask for a “heatmap” after we saw several discrete data points. ==We need a simpler explanation==. We want to see the information included us, the area we live. To do so, extrapolating from a few points to a map inherits uncertainties. I should emphasize here that there is a fair argument that they (AirVisual) should make an average from the data they collected.

When I talked to many well-informed people about the latest incidents with air quality in Hanoi, most of people or at least people who I spoke to expressed a negative view about the AirVisual from not having the consent to gather data, not present data for the ambient air, not having the sensor placed in a properly or the accuracy of the sensor. All those points are valid. But if you look at this one more level down to the way we prove our point, what we are doing? We were saying something bad, and somehow use this argument to suggest we are know better. The elimination is not sound here. Of course, I prefer someone said their product are accurate because of the product itself, and how that product is useful to the buyer. Place yourself in a global discussion and see how confident your are for eventually the goal is, I supposed, you are right and correct about a conclusion, a particular view, an assessment.

Think about having one source of information again when you are no way to cross-check the same type of information. You are the consumer of information and you have to right to use or not to use the product. If you want to product to be better, you are always welcome to give some constructive and practical suggestion.

So what the hell with media literacy? Be a smart and conscientious customer. Everything has it limits. Outside the pre-defined boundary, the information can no longer be valid or be reliable. That is one reason why scientists don’t make a broad statement, and rather lengthy one when setting up the boundary for a particular information.

To increase the certainty, be willing to accept more sources of information. It could be contradicted each others which should be interpreted as not a settled perspective.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and so do you, but keep your option on top of verifiable facts. No want to be wrong or defeated in a discussion, but if you do, you learn something for the next discussion so that you are not defeated like the last time.

Don't just win in your home match, prepare to play well in the global setting.

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