How to improve your social media literacy in a partisan age

There’s no doubt we’re living in a hyper-partisan age, and as we head into the 2020 presidential election, it’s only going to get worse. Absorb these key points to keep your head straight through the tsunami.

1. Read before sharing. If there were 10 Commandments of social media, this would be number one because we have all broken it. Headline writers and social media mangers are tasked with writing the most engaging and compelling copy to grab your attention, and sometimes it elicits an emotional response that forces us to lose our cool. If you feel compelled to share, at least read what the article says and think about the content and context before broadcasting it on your feed.

2. Be open to other perspectives. We follow various voices on social media because we like them, but we can also become stuck in a bubble inside an echo chamber. Don’t forget to seek out other informed opinions and articles outside of your worldview. You don’t have to agree or even like the piece, but it will give you a broader perspective to better inform your own opinions.

3. Check your sources. The mainstream and corporate media is not without its weaknesses. They occasionally make mistakes, and their appetite for self-analysis leaves much to be desired. But on the whole, they remain the best source of news and should be given more weight and authority in terms of truth. Today there are countless websites that are determined to promote the most inflammatory stories and their own agendas that flourish on social media, often because people break Commandment Number One and share without reading. Look to see what website is publishing the story, and where their sources are coming from. If you don’t recognize the site name or there isn’t any hint of sources in the content, be wary of its truth and authority.

4. Take a breath. Again, today’s media is designed to provoke emotional reactions, but remember, you’re not required to instantly develop an informed opinion and react to everything. Take a moment or two to process the news and information intellectually before commenting or sharing. In fact, there have been a number of occasions when the news narrative completely flips in the hours since the story broke. The world is already filled with opinions, and there’s no rush to add yours without thinking it over.

5. Take a break. It’s probably the best advice for all of us to hear about social media. If the news has you too emotional, turn off the TV, computer or phone. Go for a walk, read a book, see a movie or lie down on your favorite sofa to take your mind off things for a few hours. Removing yourself from the debate to clear your head will benefit your disposition in the long run.

6. Share something positive. There’s a trend to share or comment on negative news, and no doubt, there’s been no shortage of that lately. Every once in a while, go the other way: Share something good that happened in your community or that will lift somebody’s spirits. It could be something like a good Samaritan story in the news, or a simple video of a puppy greeting a baby. Our social media feeds are what we choose them to be, so make a positive impact by shining something bright for others.