This is a guest post from Leslie LeSieur who is one of the contributing writers for Net Results. The content was so relevant and spot on, I had to share.

Throughout this last year, my oldest child has often declared “I hate COVID!” or “When will it be over?” I know we can all echo the same sentiments. Maybe your own family members or even you have said the same. Since we did not go on a road trip vacation this year, I heard these phrases over and over instead of the usual, “Is it time?” or “Are we there yet?” It brings to mind that these aren’t questions only for my children. They are all our questions too. We all want to be “there;” that post-pandemic place where we are gathered together. We want to be “there”! Truth is, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re closer to being there than before. With vaccinations on the rise and COVID counts on the decline, we are dreaming and thinking on the return to in-person activities as a church and community at large. With most things, this will surely happen gradually with safety measures and lessons we’ve been familiarized with over this past year.

As we have all been creating, accessing, and really consuming more online and digital content throughout the pandemic. I want to share some tidbits to ensure we are responsible creators and users of media. Everyday, we see opinions, facts, memes, stories written as news articles with statistics and storylines that make us believe the “expert researcher.” As someone who holds a degree in the specific studies of Communications, I have tried to make myself, my students, my congregation, and my children aware of ways to think critically about social media and digital communication. Along with the need to consume more and more digital information, we must use what we know to ensure we are not media illiterate, now and in our post-pandemic world.

In sharing lectures with students, I identify that media literacy is the ability to distinguish differing types of media all while understanding the message in a wide array of media. These can include television, radio, print media, text message, snap chats, social media, viral videos (don’t get me started with the TikTok and YouTube obsession in this house), video games, and especially advertising. The first tip in understanding media is to know that someone created it for a reason. There is always a reason, sometimes it is created to impact bottom lines, sometimes it is for entertainment, and sometimes it’s created with chaotic, inflammatory ideas in mind. We must try to discern the creator’s goal, asking what did they want us to take away?

As we evaluate media, we also decide if the message makes sense. If it seems there are main ideas, what was included and what was excluded, and for whom it was created. My work with faculty members on the subject of communication in ministry, in my own home, and at church, has afforded me the knowledge that an important part of my job is to help someone learn to critical thinking skills. This does not mean I teach them to them think in a “right” way or to think exactly the way I do. To allow someone to think critically is to allow them to question what they are seeing, reading, and experiencing while using well thought out examples to input the information into their own worldly context. As the director of a ministry training program we can directly instruct our students to begin to engage materials with these important questions in mind, that is what they expect. However, with your church members and even your family, these lessons need to be a part of your everyday interaction or a thoughtful exchange of ideas and conversations introducing the material. 

Encourage people to think about these questions to becoming more media literate. After engaging in this process and answering the questions, it is my belief that you will be better able to evaluate the messages responsibly. The more you use these questions the easier and more skilled you become at evaluating media and all messages in your life.

  • Why was this created?
  • Who authored the message? Was it for a company or individual? Was this person a scholar, entertainer, or is it anonymous? What does it mean if it is “anonymous”?
  • Who was the intended audience? Was it for children or adults? Was it created for a certain group of people? Was it created for people who have similar interests or hobbies?
  • What makes this information believable or unbelievable? Are trusted resources used? What data has been provided? Is the message from an entity considered an expert?
  • What details were not represented? Was it a balanced and fair no matter the side in which you personally fall? Do you understand fully what was presented?
  • How did the message make you feel? What do you think about the shared material?

We all “hate COVID” and are ready to be gathered together. We are getting closer to a time where personal interaction will be our “norm” again. While our everyday usage of media may lessen, we cannot lose the ways of doing church that have appealed to so many. I know a balance of digital and in person hybrid models using multiple ways of connecting and being together will help our congregations and communities. Digital content creation and consumption are here to stay. It is our responsibility as leaders to become better users of the messages and information we send and receive. We must be active participants in our own digital world and to help others evaluate what they receive, making our whole world more adept in media literacy.