LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Navigating the news landscape can be tough but knowing how to spot truthful, accurate information with context is crucial for an informed citizenry and a healthy democracy.
The relentless onslaught of information can feel overwhelming.
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The internet and technology have fractured traditional news delivery methods and given rise to a variety of social media platforms, apps, streaming services and other on-demand news content.
The ability to have news at your fingertips, at any time, can lead to overload.
Sara Advent, 21, says her appetite for news and information has made her rethink her consumption habits.
"At one point, I just had to take a two-week break and put away all of the notifications just because I definitely internalize the news and getting so much news, constantly, was just exhausting me," explained Advent.
The proliferation of news and the ability to share it on social media makes a digital disconnect difficult when it becomes ingrained with how people stay in touch.
Advent, who is studying journalism, says recent historic events have made it difficult to simply tune out.
“Being a student and caring about politics, I want to be informed by the news, but sometimes it feels like too much," explained Advent.
Experts say the key is finding a balance between media consumption and the type of information you get.
Think of information like a plate of food with four distinct groups.
In one section there is information that can be verified for accuracy; consider these like proteins and vegetables.
Another section contains misinformation.
Simply put, these are facts that are stated incorrectly which can include numbers or dates, for example. Think of this section as a salty snack or side dish.
The next portion of the plate contains disinformation.
Experts say this section can do major harm over time, just like eating too much fried foods or sugary desserts.
Lastly, propaganda has developed a negative connotation over the years.
Experts say propaganda takes on many forms but includes product commercials and political messaging.
“Propaganda is like, ‘we’re the biggest, we’re the best, we’re the most reliable, you’ll love us!’ it’s a one-sided truth, basically, without the whole truth," said Al Tompkins, senior faculty at the Poynter Institute.
Tompkins has 45 years of experience in the journalism field.
The Poynter Institute is one of the most widely recognized, respected and prestigious nonprofit organizations focused on journalistic integrity, research and ethical standards.
Tompkins says healthy news and information consumption diets need to come from a variety of credible sources.
"I say all the time, we put more effort into investigating our breakfast cereals than we do passing along something that could potentially be read by thousands of people," said Tompkins.
Credible sources are like a nutrition label.
Too much sodium, saturated fats and sugars can be hazardous for your health.
"It's a little bit like eating the vegetables, you don't like them, but they're full of iron and vitamins, they're not that bad, that won't do you any harm and probably do you some good," explained Tompkins.
But how does someone determine which information sources are credible?
Assistant Professor Emma Frances Bloomfield at UNLV says critical thinking is the first step.
"If people are trying to undermine the credibility of a news source, that is something else we can check," said Bloomfield.
"We can do our own research on what that original source saying, is this person or this source checking this information? It's all about how we're evaluating and where we're getting our news from," explained Bloomfield.
Bloomfield says a basic level of researching, double-checking facts from government entities, plus seeking out multiple news organizations reporting on the same topic can help people navigate and sort out fact from fiction.
"We get so much information provided to us that sometimes just pausing and reflecting on the information before you believe, it is true or before you share it, can be enough of a check for your critical thinking to come in to play," added Bloomfield.
There is a word of caution, Bloomfield says when it comes to poking around on social media.
"You have, throughout history, people spreading disinformation through pamphlets or non-technological means but with the Internet and social media that information can travel extremely quickly, it can proliferate and amplify itself," explained Bloomfield.
Experts urge caution with "social media echo chambers," which are places or groups on the internet where like-minded people congregate, consume and share similar beliefs and even disinformation.
"It further solidifies your own belief that you are in the right, you are correct in what you're consuming because everyone else around you thinks that same way," explained Bloomfield.
Experts say it can be tough to figure out what's right and wrong but truth and journalism are pillars that have stood the test of time.
"What do we mean by journalism?" said Tompkins.
"Over the years, I have come to think of journalism differently than opinion or information in this way: a journalist would be willing to report something that you personally disagree with or that Channel 13 would not profit from and in fact, might even be penalized," explained Tompkins.
Experts say there are three key strategies to keep in mind:
- Read broadly across multiple media types including print, TV and online publications.
- Think critically about the information you are receiving.
- Take a moment to digest the information and disconnect for a moment if you're feeling overwhelmed.
Bloomfield suggests reading an international publication to get a world perspective and to receive new and differing viewpoints.