Parents and teachers of digital kids should make it a habit to evaluate media for authenticity and reliability rather than automatically sharing dramatic images with children. Evaluating media is a critical 21st Century skill — for adults and children
The other day a friend sent me a link to a storm picture. The image featured a familiar ocean pier with huge waves about to crash onto its farthest end. (The photo at left is the pier long before the storm). While the drama of the image intrigued me, on reflection I was bothered because I could not learn anything about the website that hosted the image. Other than labeling the town and the storm, the photograph offered no other identifying narrative.
With its etherial quality, the image looked as if the pier was superimposed over a dramatic ocean scene — the waves and spray crashing at one end while the rest of the structure was clear without any water or spray obstructions. Moreover, since I was familiar with the location, I could not figure out where the photographer stood to take the picture. Perhaps I was wrong, but since I could not discover anything more about the picture, I decided not to send it to anyone else, and I am not even posting it here.
When a huge emergency like Hurricane Sandy occurs, digital pictures and videos circulate all over the web and via social media. A fair amount of these digital materials mis-represent the situation. To avoid focusing too much on the misrepresentations we need to apply some 21st Century common sense.
Before showing disaster photographs and videos to children, take a few minutes to study them, learn more about the provenance of each media clip or image, evaluate the context of each, and ask the following questions:
- Can you tell who took the picture or video?
- Is it posted at a reliable website?
- Is there something about the image that makes you think it might be PhotoShopped or altered in some way?
- What is the perspective of this picture? How was it taken and where was the photographer in relation to the photo subject?
- What is your personal or gut reaction to the image?
- If people are in the picture, are they shown respectfully?
- Will this picture frighten a child or cause later distress?
Serious news reporters, whether professionals or citizen journalists, go to considerable lengths to provide information about the media that they post. As parents and educators, we, too should do all we can to ensure that the media we share are authentic and reputable. It’s the least we can to do help today’s digital natives develop and fine-tune their 21st Century learning skills.