We live in unprecedented times. The ability we have to access immeasurable amounts of information in a matter of seconds is exciting. But how can we tell if the information we have is reliable, especially when making important decisions? One way we can navigate these difficult waters is to become more “media literate.”
What do we mean when we talk about media literacy, and how can it help us avoid being deceived in these last days? Media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create messages in a variety of forms.”1 These are all useful skills to develop, especially in the age of misinformation.
Here are a few things to consider as you begin to cultivate your own media literacy.
The scriptures teach us that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1). The same principle can be applied to our efforts in seeking truthful and accurate information. While we can easily find answers to important questions with just a simple web search, verifying the accuracy of that information takes time and effort. Additionally, there is also a danger in relying on just one voice, especially in a time when media bias seems more prevalent and when more and more individuals are looking to promote certain agendas. We can be better informed if we seek out multiple sources from different channels, including books, newspaper articles, academic studies, and other trusted experts.
We have the tendency to take much of the information we consume at face value, particularly if we feel we can trust the source of the information. However, even the most well-intentioned sources can be wrong sometimes. Thus, it is important that we take the time to verify information shared with us, especially if it’s something we intend to act on or to share with others.
A recent survey released by the Pew Research Center revealed that nearly half (48 percent) of US adults get news and information from social media.2 While social media can be a great tool for information, the content we find in our feeds is largely based off strategies meant to get our attention rather than give us valuable and accurate information. Between these personalization algorithms and our ability to control our circle of friends within these platforms, we create a potential echo chamber, where our own beliefs and opinions are magnified, and we’re fed information focused solely on our own interests.
Social media also tends to be a breeding ground for false and misleading information, due to the ease with which someone can create and share content. It is imperative that we closely examine any information we see on social media and verify its authenticity before we accept it or choose to share it. President Russell M. Nelson has warned, “If most of the information you get comes from social or other media, your ability to hear the whisperings of the Spirit will be diminished.”3
The world is full of competing messages, telling us what to think and how to act. President James E. Faust (1920–2007), Second Counselor in the First Presidency, taught that the best way to overcome the “static” in the world is to listen to and follow the voice of the Spirit. “It requires patience in a world that demands instant gratification. This solution is quiet, peaceful, and subtle in a world enamored of that which is loud, incessant, fast paced, garish, and crude,” he said.4
The Spirit is a powerful tool that can help us sort through and identify accurate and valuable information. We can find comfort in Moroni’s promise that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). So how do we know when the Spirit is speaking to us? As Oliver Cowdery was instructed by the Lord, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2).
This can require our best intellectual efforts to identify truth from error, as well as our best efforts to live our lives in such a way that we have the Spirit with us. Be careful not to engage in media or related content that would drive the Holy Ghost away.
In the midst of their long, difficult journey out of Egypt, the children of Israel began to murmur against the Lord. They asked Moses, “Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” (Numbers 21:5). As a result of their grumbling, fiery serpents were sent among the people. Many of them were bitten and died. When Moses went to the Lord on their behalf, the Lord instructed him to make a fiery serpent and attach it to a pole. Those who were bitten just needed to look at the brass serpent and they would live—an easy solution to a life-threatening problem. The Israelites who chose to look were able to live. (See Numbers 21:6–9.) But for others, the remedy was too simple, so they chose not to believe. They didn’t look to the serpent and eventually perished. (See 1 Nephi 17:41; Alma 33:19–20.)
In our day, we face a similar plague of “fiery serpents” in the form of false, divisive, or even malicious information that is meant to harm us and others. If we consume it, such information can be just as deadly—spiritually, mentally, and emotionally—as the poisonous serpents were to the children of Israel.
Our best line of defense in the last days against the misinformation that “shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24) is to look to our living prophet. While the world may not value the prophet’s counsel, we know that he is the Lord’s mouthpiece. The Lord has told us that “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38). It is important that we balance news and information with the word of the Lord, including counsel provided through His prophets and apostles. As we rely on their direction and as we check what we hear from the world against what we hear from the Lord and His prophets, we will find it easier to discern between truth and error.
With all of the misinformation available to us, it is no wonder that Paul said that in the last days, men will be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).
The ease at which we can access information is a gift from our Heavenly Father. However, in spite of all the information we can get, “wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). That is something for which we can’t rely on a search engine.
Instead, as we seek wisdom, we must “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). Pairing good media literacy and our best intellectual efforts with gospel living and our best spiritual efforts will invite the spiritual guidance we need to discern truth from error and avoid being deceived by the flood of misinformation around us.