Information Overload, Media Bias, Pandemic Stress and You

Canada and the rest of the world are facing many difficult challenges and scary situations right now. After 2 years of pandemic lockdowns, restrictions and mandates, people of all ages are stressed, anxious, angry even.

I know I am. 

It’s okay to feel this way. We have been through a lot. We have to be able to talk about how the pandemic has detrimentally affected our collective and individual well-being.

If you need support, please reach out. Start with your primary care provider. Let them know you are struggling. If you have a young person in your life who is having a hard time, you can also take a look at my article on mental health resources for youth for some ideas on how to help them.

But if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, don’t wait — call 911 immediately. You can also reach out to the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1.833.456.4566. There are people who care. There are people who can help. Even though you may feel hopeless and helpless right now, the world really is a better place with you in it.

Contributing to our angst is certainly the conflicting information with which we are bombarded on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Because the internet and social media platforms give equal access to both credible and less credible news sources, many people are more confused than ever about what is factual, true and accurate.

Having worked in, and studied, library and information technology for many years now, I have spent time researching and teaching how to discern information from misinformation, or inaccurate information that is mistakenly given, and from disinformation, or inaccurate information deliberately intended to deceive. Disinformation is also often used in propaganda to undermine political ideals and instill certain attitudes in large groups of people.

With propaganda and other disinformation sources, the perpetrators are getting quite sophisticated. Fake social media accounts and false websites abound. It is easy to be fooled, so do not feel bad if you have been taken in from time to time. I have made mistakes too.

My advice is two-fold.

  1.  Look at how the information is presented. Is it clearly biased towards one extreme or another? Are derogatory terms being used to describe the other viewpoint? If so, it is not balanced or impartial. There may be slivers of truth, but it is being exaggerated and other facts are likely being suppressed.
  2. Look at the source. Who is creating or publishing the article, post, podcast, video, etc.? What are their credentials? Are they respected experts in their field, or are they speaking outside their arcs? Who is funding them? The phrase follow the money is pretty accurate.

There is a great media bias chart I use as a go-to from Ad Fontes Media Inc. It is busy, but from their latest version, you can see that the most balanced, reliable go-to sources are AP, Reuters and What’s News. It is also clear which ones to stay away from.

The Ad Fontes Media chart does not include Canadian sources, however. For Canadian media there is no handy bias chart. The Canadian Encyclopedia notes: 

“For decades, many newspapers openly leaned left or right (e.g., the left-leaning Globe and the right-leaning Empire newspapers). Today, people are more likely to find openly biased reporting on left-leaning websites such as HuffPost or Salon, or the right-leaning Drudge Report or Rebel News. Some studies have found that the CBC has a left-centre bias. However, that tends to be largely offset by factual reporting that includes multiple perspectives.”

The website corroborates this assertion, noting that CBC News is one of the top 5 Canadian media sources by web rank, along with CTV News, Global News, The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star. Other sources also suggest that CTV News and CP24 are the least biased, most factual news outlets.

What about for kids? Personally, I love the website Teaching Kids News, which has been up and running for over a decade now. In addition to providing timely news articles geared towards Gr. 2 – 8 students, they provide discussion questions and activities that parents and teachers can use to extend learning. It also has a FABULOUS section entitled “Fake News” Resources that has tons of articles, research and online games to help students spot fake news. It is an extremely comprehensive site that should be your first stop when helping kids with their media literacy skills.

My last suggestion? Once you have identified the credible sources you want to follow, do not hesitate to unplug periodically, especially before bedtime. Constant doomscrolling, even if it is factual, is still bad for our well-being. 

And I checked my sources on that.

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