How to be an Educated Viewer of Media

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People spend large amounts of their day viewing media, going online, reading articles/books, scrolling through apps, and watching television. These areas give us the bulk of information about what is going on in the world. But how do we know if what we are viewing is accurate? Unbiased? Credible?

If I asked you to look up an event or situation on one news website and then I asked you to look up the same event on another app or website, what do you think you will find? Would the information be the same or have some differences? Considering the event was described by two different people with two different perspectives, I would say the chances of the event being described differently would be pretty high. The reason for that lies in the different ways information was gathered, different ways the event is being used, and different opinions the writers embedded into the event.

So how do we know if we are getting accurate information? How do we form our own opinion of the situation, rather than blindly adopting the writer’s perspective as fact? The answer: be an educated viewer. An educated viewer looks at multiple sources, questions what they read/see, and questions the motives of the article or picture. Only when we question and assess information that is presented to us, can we become individual thinkers. When we gather information from multiple viewpoints/sources, we can then decide for ourselves what we think and form our own opinion (Commonsensemedia, 2020).

Let’s look at different sources of media. In research studies, it is important to ask yourself, who paid for the study, what is the sample size, does this show correlation or cause and effect, etc. When you start to question what you are reading, you will see biases, be able to discern opinions vs. facts, and see how it applies to the general population.

In the political realm, it is common to use fear as a motivator for action. When we are fearful, we are more likely to change behaviors. Fear may be used to taint an opponent, increase chance of inaction, or portray that a certain political party is the only one to reduce your fear of a situation. Most political statements or articles are there to influence you. If you were an educated viewer you would look up topics from multiple sources, research credible facts, and take breaks as necessary from the content if the anxiety is too much (Waldroff, 2020).

In pictures, ads, and commercials, it is helpful to ask “what are they trying to sell?” Look around, most commercials put an attractive person next to a car, hoping that you will want to buy that car. How come they do this? Well, they may be trying to tell you that if you buy this car, attractive people may want to be around you. Or they may be trying to indirectly say that you’ll be happy if you buy it and all your dreams will come true.

Pictures and videos also try to influence what people “like.” More specifically they try to push the thin-ideal. Thin shaped people saturate media sites, making it seem commonplace. Making it something that you should be, according to them (Perloff, 2014). It has been shown that music video and magazine exposure predicted awareness of dieting culture and produced greater dissatisfaction with body image (Dohnt & Tiggemann, 2006). Repeated daily media exposure was found to be linked to self objectification, possibly leading to changes in one’s view of their body (Fardouly & Vartanian, 2015).

Start questioning and evaluating. Is this picture photo-shopped? Does everyone have the same body type? What is omitted? Are there parts of the story that are not there or is the article only looking at the negatives? Are the writer’s opinions embedded in the story? Who created it? Who funded it? What is the purpose? What are they trying to sell? Be an active, educated viewer. Ask questions, research information, have discussions, and listen to other viewpoints. After all that, form your own individual opinion.


Ashley Anderson, PsyD, CEDS

Dr. Ashley Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the state of Illinois. Dr. Anderson works at a private practice called Shift Perspective, P.C. She provides individual psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and young adults. Additionally, Dr. Anderson provides psychological testing for people of all ages. Dr. Anderson is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) through IAEDP. She is currently active in the following associations: a member of the American Psychological Association since 2007, the Illinois Psychological Association since 2012, and is a National Register Health Service Psychologist (since 2014).