Media Influence Is so Bad, Apple Wants to Teach Critical Thinking

Some days I feel like a spectator in this really weird game of media bumper cars.

As a career journalist, I have inside knowledge of how the media works. The good, the bad, and we all know things can get very ugly. But lately things seem especially wretched. Huge companies that have a huge impact on a significant chunk of the population’s lives are being fined billions of dollars for exerting unfair and unjust influence on the marketplace – Google I’m looking at you with your wanna have a monopoly self.

And Google’s not the only one with a monopoly complex. The same goes for Facebook. When isn’t that company in the news? Its ideas about data privacy – and by association customer respect – are akin to promoting Swiss cheese as the next big innovation for water containment.

There’s new legislation popping up everywhere to deal with what I like to call Big Media. You know, like, Big Pharma or Big Momma? A few key companies dominate the media markets, and Facebook and Google are two of them.

For example, earlier this week Facebook settled lawsuits over potential discrimination in ads on its platforms. The organization agreed to take steps to limit how ads are targeted. Under the settlement, Facebook won’t allow housing, employment, and credit ads to be targeted by age, gender or zip code, and the company will build a special advertising interface for these ads with limited targeting options. It sounds good to me. Or should I say, better late than never?

There’s a ton of stuff happening, and I’m only talking about what’s been reported. It makes me want to do something, but what? To get away from it would require the mother of all digital cleanses, and tragically, most people can’t contemplate anything like that. Why? People are low key – or high key depending on who you’re talking about – addicted to Facebook and other social media, to technology in general, even though most of it is doing us dirty.

I read an article earlier today talking about how health apps, which store and have access to some of the most personal information people have, are selling and/or sharing users’ data. In one case data went to Equifax. So, should we deduce that our health data is somehow related to credit reporting?

Add this on top of the crazy problems foreign countries, and us too, are having dealing with fake news and excessive influence from social media on the political arena, the media and digital communication landscape as a whole is a big ole stinky mess. It’s scary.

People can’t seem to tell the real from the fake. Not everyone, of course. Some people are simply making interesting choices. But others are having a tough time because they genuinely can’t discern what’s good and what’s bad. You may be like, why not? It’s obvious in most cases, isn’t it?

Well, yeah, if you have common sense, and you’re a critical consumer of data. But remember, common sense is not common, and most of us don’t think critically about the information we’re fed through various sources. We actively shape those sources to feed us certain messages, and algorithms and such take over from there.

Plus, when it comes to media and information consumption, we often think and react emotionally. Media outlets know that, and they play on that very common human tendency. Remember last week I talked about bias and shaping a narrative with headlines and pictures? That’s the game.

On some level, it’s always been like this in media. The difference now is, thanks to technology, information spreads so far so fast, media is exponentially more influential – and potentially dangerous.

Things have gotten so rough, Apple plans to teach critical thinking. The tech giant is joining forces with several nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and Europe that offer nonpartisan, independent media literacy programs. “News literacy is vital to sustaining a free press and thriving democracy,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.

Organizations that work with Apple on the initiative will create programs that teach students “to take a look at why something was created, who created it, and whether it’s credible or not, evaluating viewpoints, hidden messages, and persuasive intent.”

When I first read that story I thought, great. Somebody needs to do it. Why not one of the huge tech companies that is potentially part of the problem? My next thought was, don’t they teach critical thinking in school? If not, why not? Seems like it would be just as important as reading, you know? The two go hand in hand.

My next thought was, how can we get some of this critical thinking acumen to people who aren’t students? It’s rough out here. And I have a serious feeling things are going to get worse before they get better.

It’s an interesting time we’re in right now. The world is figuring out how to deal with the influence of technology in so many areas. I just hope all the animals aren’t let loose from the circus before we figure things out, you know?

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