So Easy To Fall
So Easy to Fall by Diana Maliszewski
Two recent examples have shown me that, even when people know the critical thinking strategies to use when consuming media, those skills are useless if you don’t apply them. I’m lucky I have my spouse and his healthy skepticism.
I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone when I saw an article from Ranker about Mckamey Manor. The link (although it may not be the exact one I first saw) is https://www.ranker.com/list/mckamey-manor-extreme-haunted-house/april-a-taylor. I read through it and was really surprised by all the horrifying tales it described. It was shocking. It was gross. I read it out loud to my husband.
“This can’t be right. Something weird is going on”, said my spouse.
He went onto his computer and typed “Mckamey Manor” into Google. He read several articles, some of which were similar in tone. He saw a Change.org petition to shut down the Tennessee version of the haunted house. He was surprised by his initial results and didn’t think that such a place could exist or that it was legal for such events described in the other articles to occur. He kept looking and eventually he found an article that discussed what Mckamey Manor was and it included an interview with its creator. The link to that article can be found at https://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/holidays-halloween/mckamey-manor.htm . Once he read that, things became much more clear and he understood that the other articles were sensationalistic and possibly planted in order to promote this business, because it made it seem so unbelievably frightening or horrible that it attracted our attention.
Where I Tripped
First of all, I should have remembered about the click-bait titles on social media that lures you into reading more. It also elicited an emotional reaction in me – disgust and shock. Appealing to emotions, especially negative ones, are classic strategies for attracting readers and viewers. In getting swept up in the story, I neglected to allow myself to ask those critical questions related to possibility and reliability. I didn’t bother to investigate the information past the first thing I read.
Doug Ford’s Health Care Changes
While driving home from school, I heard on the news on the radio an announcement about a recent decision by Ontario’s provincial government to try and alleviate the pressure on health care by diverting cases to private health care providers. I went on Twitter and found this post:
NEW: Doug Ford just announced he is outsourcing ‘50%’ of surgeries in Ontario to private, for-profit facilities.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) January 16, 2023
“This is terrible! That Doug Ford – what an awful leader”, I fumed.
I told my husband.
“50% sounds like a lot” replied my husband. “Are you sure about that?”
“Yes. I heard it from a news source,” I answered.
“That didn’t sound like what I read on the Toronto Star and on the CBC website,” he countered. “They quoted a different number. What news source did you hear this from?”
I told him the name of the source and he was unfamiliar with it. He started looking around on the Internet and he discovered that Press Progress is an arm of the Broadbent Institute, a political think tank associated with the NDP. He read that Press Progress has sometimes been criticized for taking their cues from NDP talking points. He had wondered to himself, “Why is this different? Why is it being couched differently than the other sources?”
Where I Tripped
I allowed my prior opinions of the political leader to influence the way I approached the article; in other words, because it supported my view of the current Ontario premier, I was positively inclined to believe the worst of him. My next error was to turn to Twitter to locate more information. It’s not necessarily that the news was wrong; you can get information from sources that have an agenda. All organizations have agendas; it’s just wise to be aware of their goals. I consider myself a critical thinker – many people do – but my own bias interfered.
Lateral reading. Triangulating data. Challenging confirmation bias. Checking sources. It’s easier to point out when others aren’t doing it, especially when they are on the other end of the spectrum from your own beliefs. The trick is to ensure we all practice these media literacy habits regularly, even when casually reading or encountering information that supports our world views.