News Lit Tips

A healthy reaction to information is to ask ‘What’s the point of this?’

Primary purpose

We’re all moving targets when it comes to information aimed straight at us, whether the darts headed our way are text messages, social media posts, photos, emails, longer written pieces, games, GIFs or videos. Savvy citizens of the internet know to start with one question when something whose creator they don’t know hits their screen: What is the main purpose of this information?

Especially if you first think is that what you’re seeing is news, think harder: Is it intended mainly to entertain you? Sell you something? Persuade you of something? Provoke you? Or is it information presented to document or inform? As the “InfoZones” lesson in our Checkology® virtual classroom explains, understanding the following categories of information helps you know how to process what’s coming at you:

  • News: Informs you, through objective reporting, about local, national and international events, issues and people of significance or of interest.
  • Opinion: Persuades you, ideally through the use of fact-based evidence, to adopt a specific point of view about an issue or event.
  • Advertising: Sells you a product or service.
  • Entertainment: Amuses, pleases, relaxes or distracts you.
  • Propaganda: Provokes you — often by using false or distorted information to manipulate your emotions.
  • Raw information: Documents an event or trend. It has not been analyzed, checked, edited, explained or placed in any context.

There’s nothing wrong with going online to be entertained or amazed. But to avoid being unwittingly zinged by something that you assume is verified news but is, rather, an ad or unedited video, start with this healthy question: “What is the primary objective or purpose of this piece of information?”

Once you’ve answered that, you’re prepared for what comes your way. Whether you laugh, shout, buy or cry, you’ll be in charge of your reaction — and you won’t end up spreading what you thought was truth but instead was something taken out of context or designed to manipulate.