Scroll through your Facebook timeline right now – somewhere there is at least one passionate novel length status from someone who claims they are the end all guru of political wisdom.
It’s that time again, friends. Happy election year!
With this being such a vital year in American politics, there’s a wave of messages flooding media channels with ‘vital political information’. But how do you navigate the madness? How can you figure out who to vote for with confidence when one source about a candidate contradicts another source?
Never fear! Political literacy is here!
Political literacy, first and foremost, should not be confused with political ideology. While political ideology is great in directing you in seeking sources based on your values, political literacy and being politically literate is being able to evaluate information that is appropriate, credible, and overall reliable. You see it in Facebook statuses, biased media sources, and even just word of mouth – there is so much information out there but not all the information will be reliable because, well, anyone can produce ‘information’. A good rule of thumb is to spot C.R.A.P when you see it!
When looking at resources, you should consider the following things:
Currency – How recent was this resource published or updated? This is especially important when you are researching political candidates because a statement that they said in a speech ten years ago may be brought up for debate. That statement might not have the same meaning or reflect the same beliefs the candidate holds now.
Reliability – What kind of information is included in the resource? Does the author provide citations/ references for quotations and data? Where are you getting this information from? A lot of articles will use numbers to make their point. Figures like 43% of this or $2 billion of that are easy to throw around, but where are the citations?
A great resource for those who are seeking to be politically literate is the site http://www.politifact.com/. This site has a user-friendly “truth-o-meter” where journalists have researched “political facts” and statements as a reference for voters.
Authority – Who is the author/ creator of the resource? Are they credible/ reputable? One of the best ways to ensure whatever information you are getting has a reputable authority behind it is to simply go towards the source! Go to a candidate’s site and research what they have been working on/what they value. Go talk to your local politicians – often times you will be able to actually visit their personal office! Being politically literate is about much more than just choosing a president and you can’t get more authentic than the politician themselves!
Additional sources that would be helpful would be the NYTimes guide to the candidates, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/2016-presidential-candidates.html, and Baltimore Sun Voting Guide http://data.baltimoresun.com/voter-guide-2016/, since the information is specifically compiled from the survey information that politicians filled out themselves.
Purpose/Point of View – Is the content primarily opinion or is the information provided with as minimal bias as possible? Why was the article written in the first place? If there is one thing you must be wary about is the tidal wave of bias. Often, the purpose of a political message is to share a specific point of view – even if that means exaggerating/manipulating information. Taking the initiative to be politically literate sometimes means leaving your ideology at the door. We’ve all been susceptible to the phenomenon of the “filter bubble” – surrounding ourselves with people and following social media that reflects our own ideology. While aligning with a political ideology has its perks don’t forget to ask for the facts!
Wow, it seems like you have to navigate through a lot of C.R.A.P to become politically literate right? Don’t worry! You’re swimming your way towards political literacy by just questioning the sources of information you find!