Category Archives: Literacy

Understanding Content – Avatar


First, a confession – I am a lifelong science fiction fan… and, an even more telling confession; I remember the excitement when the first episode of Star Trek aired on TV. Consequently, I was delighted when a Christmas present from my son and DIL was a visit to town to see 3D Avatar. Beyond the incredibly beautiful visual experience, which was like moving through a painting, the most interesting aspect of Avatar was the fact that Sam Worthington’s character, the marine, Jake Sully, actually did “walk a mile in another’s shoes/moccasins.” And “walking that mile” did literally change his perspective.

Content and Literacy

What does Avatar have to do with understanding content and literacy in the 21st century?

I hoped that Social Media would give an opportunity for people to literally “see the world through each other’s eyes,” without being subjected to Mass Media filters and gatekeepers. Understanding the limitations and problems of different groups, within our own country and in other parts of our world, would create greater openness and greater empathy, leading to positive solutions to intractable world problems.

Accomplishments of Social Media

What has Social Media accomplished so far? It has allowed people who share similar ideas to more effectively find each other and reinforce commonly shared views. In addition to common global issues, most areas of the world have regional controversial issues. In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, the most publicized controversial issue is the annual seal hunt. Each spring in the past, the hunt has given rise to competing mass media campaigns. This year, I had anticipated there would be competing Social Media campaigns. Looking at FaceBook this morning, I noticed the opposing camps have already started.

Movement to Social Media

In the future, we will to see more advertising, promotion, and political campaigns move to Social Media. To quote Mashable.com, “For the first time in 23 years, Pepsi will not have any ads in the Super Bowl. Instead, the company will be spending $20 million on a social media campaign it’s calling The Pepsi Refresh Project.”  We have all heard of the effect of Social Media on the election of US President Barack Obama. What will be the future impact of Social Media on communication of ideas?

Propagating a Point of View

Much of the literature about Social Media discusses how to use Social Media to market or to propagate a specific point-view. For example, the “experts” suggest how to become “personable” in Social Media, since being “sociable” multiplies “trust” in the message you are delivering. They want the reader to perceive the message as coming from a trusted friend…which can be very useful…but it can also be truly scary.

From the point of view of marketers and branders, Social Media has a number of obvious advantages. A few of these advantages are:

  1. Allowing people who hold the same views to find each other through networks of friends and followers. By mining information about selected groups, marketers can target their messages to a very specific demographic with known opinions on a number of matters.
  2. Permitting people to express views with relative anonymity. This enables marketers to send carefully worded planted comments  to groups in order to influence opinion.
  3. Letting people use “loaded” words, sweeping generalizations, and other types of expressions without being challenged. Marketers can utilize this in two ways: they can plant message to goad people into more extreme views or they can maliciously add questionable material to legitimate groups, discrediting the group with other sources and with some of its own members.
  4. Having no rules about who can join a group. Marketers can establish paid or unpaid “monitors” to penetrate groups to examine comments, enabling them to determine what type of advertising will be most effective for that particular demographic.
  5. Accepting multi-media materials from unknown sources.  Marketers can quote “data,” display photosphopped or staged images, and post edited videotape, for which they do not give legitimate sources.

Purpose of Social Media

Even without outside intervention from advertisers, marketers and branders, how Social Media impacts issues leads to a number of important questions. Why do individuals form groups and acquire followers in Social Media? Do they want to examine issues, stimulate informed discussion, or acquire knowledge…or do they form groups to reinforce and to exaggerate opinions already held, leading each group to espouse more extreme positions? What, if any, is the impact of these groups on people who are not committed to one side or the other?

As that widely distributed YouTube says, “We live in exponential times.”

The world is faced with overwhelming amounts of data on overwhelming problems – social, economic, medical, political, and environmental. Social media has enormous potential to be a bridge to allow people to develop understanding and empathy for each other’s problems by “walking a mile in another’s shoes/moccasins.”

So far, what I have observed is people comfortably slipping into their old shoes and old thoughts, sometimes propelled by varying amounts of deliberate manipulation and misinformation. If Social Media is to have any impact on solving world issues, we need paths to each other’s situations. Like Jake Sully, we need to develop empathy by “walking a mile in another’s shoes/moccasins.” We need to be able to clearly recognize and distinguish fact from marketing, branding, and propaganda.

The first step to achieving that goal is greater awareness of many of the tactics of propaganda which are being used by all sides. Over the next few weeks, I intend to discuss these in more detail.

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Filed under FaceBook, Literacy, Social Media, Twitter

Understanding Content – Introduction


Text messaging, email, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Flickr, and other social media have made high level literacy more important than ever in all our lives. We could choose what, when, and whether to read in a book, magazine or newspaper or look at TV or a video; now we are bombarded with text and images through internet devices.

When a person lives in Newfoundland and Labrador, analysis of content and graphics written about the province becomes a consuming interest because of the amount of misinformation that has been published in various formats about the province. Newfoundland has a small population and is in a relatively remote area; as a result, it is not well known. When reports in various formats are given about the province, its life style, and its people, I immediately check for factual accuracy, weighted words, and visual cues. Over the past few years, the quality of reporting has improved, because people have become more familiar with the province due to advances in communication technology; however, incorrect information and misinformation takes a long time to overcome.

The level of misinformation about this province has offered a tremendous advantage for judging the veracity of information presented on all topics and all places. Because I am so used to examining information written about our province, I have picked up the habit of looking at other material in a similar way. Weighted words, misleading visuals, and sweeping generalizations jump off the screen (or the page.) The extent to which people are willing to believe anything that is published, in print or electronically, never ceases to amaze me.

Today, while much of the information received through social media is from acquaintances, business associates, and friends that we have chosen to follow, advertisers and propagandists are surging [the term is used deliberately] into Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Are we prepared for this onslaught?

In the past, product advertising was much less targeted. It was assigned to certain print publications or TV programming based on less clearly defined data such as age group or perceived socio-economic group. In social media, advertising can be much more targeted based on very specific demographics and interests.

Propaganda is much more dangerous. Lurking in your Facebook, in your email attachments, and/or your Tweets can be people who are deliberately spreading propaganda, usually filled with misinformation, weighted words, and selected visuals which convey hatred and/or contempt for selected races, groups of people, or ideas.

Over the next few weeks, I will be presenting a series on this topic. Meanwhile, see my Twitter list “News and Commentary”twitter.com/eracose/news-commentary. The list [which is of necessity slanted towards Newfoundland and Canada] contains members with different and often opposing points of view. Though examining all, hopefully “truth” will become evident. If you would like to have your Tweets added to the list, please Tweet or email.

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Filed under Literacy, Newfoundland and Labrador, Photography, Social Media, Twitter