The Center for News Literacy office, located on the fourth floor of the Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library. At Stony Brook University, a news literacy course is taught to educate budding journalists on the dead giveaways of disinformation in the media. EMMA HARRIS/THE STATESMAN

James Bowen is a junior journalism major; Sam Lauria is a freshman journalism major and assistant opinions editor.

The internet is an abyss of information which can serve as a helping hand for its younger users, but a Rubix cube for older ones. The presence of social media and memes not only spreads misinformation like wildfire but also adds to the “boomer” stereotype — a generation with the reputation of “drinking the kool-aid” — or intaking information at face value without fact-checking. Add into the mix the malware, fabricated content and propaganda, and you can start to understand why older people stride away from using the internet altogether. Although 68% of boomers are using the internet, they’re seven times more likely to share false information on Facebook than Millenials. Consumers’ comfort in looking at outlets that support their beliefs creates cognitive dissonance, especially when someone’s ideas or beliefs contradict another. Hence, approximately one-third of all Americans distrust the media. 

But instead of cutting the web indefinitely, news consumers should approach digital media like a diet. By selecting what’s healthy to consume on a daily basis, boomers, as well as younger viewers, can avoid sharing misinformation. As news consumers, we need to develop ways to critically digest what we see online. 

At Stony Brook University, a news literacy course is taught to educate budding journalists on the dead giveaways of disinformation in the media. Educating news consumers about the basics of news literacy could, in turn, change their views of the web and allow people to make a distinction between good journalism and “fake news.” Once consumers of digital news freshen up their news literacy skills, well-reported and reliable information can then be further shared on social media platforms. 

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One vital piece of information to know when determining if a news outlet is valid or not is in recognizing the information neighborhood an article is coming from. In SBU’s news literacy course, student journalists are taught that information neighborhoods are an array of different mediums of communication to an audience such as journalism, entertainment and propaganda. Some of these information neighborhoods borrow characteristics from others to appeal to audiences like when entertainment tactics such as flashy titles, sound effects or music are used in journalistic platforms to appeal to audiences. This can make it even harder for people to decipher the difference between a media outlet that values journalism ethics and one that spews misinformation. 

Government-funded news outlets, for instance, produce misleading and fabricated content so as to fit their political agendas. One of these outlets, RT (Russia Today), is a government-funded site, which immediately is a red flag because the organization manipulates coverage of the news in favor of the Russian state.The site’s propaganda is seen through its use of radical headlines and claims to fuel readership.   

Another thing to watch out for is when advertisers take advantage of claiming that their work is based on journalistic pursuits in order to bump up sales. They may use news articles to put an emphasis on why their products are worth purchasing or they could also buy advertising space and sponsor particular articles. While the reports they use may be true and contribute valid points to their arguments, advertisement companies will be biased in order to further profit off their advertised products or services. 

Information is spread instantaneously, so it can be easy to get overwhelmed with trying to figure out what is real and what is not. A simple process that we can all adapt when consuming news is to check the information that is displayed as fact is verified, that the news outlet is independent and that the publication holds accountability for what they publish. We live in a world where it is common to distrust the media. In most cases, the reason behind this is people’s, particularly Boomers’, inability to recognize “fake news.” By taking the time to incorporate the verification processes mentioned before in everyday lives, all news consumers can adapt to the changing times and appreciate the fast-paced world of digital media.

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