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Digital capabilities: Media and information

A guide to help you with basic and more advanced digital skills for university learning

What is media literacy?

Media literacy can be described as:

The ability to create, comprehend and evaluate messages in a range of digital media and formats, for different audiences.

An example is receiving a news article through your social media feed, and deciding whether you should like, share or comment on it. Media literacy means that you can take a moment to think about:

  • the article
  • the platform on which it is shared
  • who wrote it
  • why they wrote it, and
  • why it has been shared with you at this particular time. 

Once you have evaluated these aspects of the message, you can make a much better-informed decision about what you do with it next.

What about you?

Part of the critical thinking you have to do in today's digital world (not to mention university) can include your choice of media to communicate. Think about:

  • what you want to say
  • who you're saying it to
  • how they might receive it, and
  • whether they can actually receive your message.

What platform or format will you use? Will you only communicate in one format? Do you want to open up a conversation?

As you think about these concepts, you will start to notice more about the messages you receive every day.

Creating media

If you have a video and/or audio assessment task, this LinkedIn Learning content might help you:

And remember you can book the library's recording studios here: Auchmuty media rooms


Because we now get so much of our information from web sites and social media, we need to know how to navigate the issues caused by predictive searching based on algorithms.  If we know how algorithms work and where they occur, we can understand how to gather more authoritative, diverse perspectives which can give us more of the ‘whole story’ of a situation or event. We can start to be more mindful about what we like and share. 


An algorithm is a set of instructions used by computers to perform a certain task. It is generally used to automate processes which are repetitive or take a long time. An example might be sorting results from a Google search by their relevance to your search words. 

A lot of our daily tasks are governed by algorithms.  There is the Google search example above. Think of streaming apps and shopping sites – how do they know what to recommend to us? Processes like these involve the analysis of lots of data. How does the software gain access to that data? 


Believe it or not, we provide a lot of the clues. Every time we decide to watch a particular program, share an online article, or like a social media post, we provide the algorithms behind the apps and sites with valuable data.  

When did we decide to give the businesses behind those apps and sites access to our data, and allow them to sell it on to other businesses? We do it when we tick the ‘Terms of Use’ box required by most apps and websites to allow us to use them. By compiling all the data from our decisions, likes and shares, companies can build up a surprisingly accurate picture of who we are, where we live, and what we like. They can use that picture to predict our future actions. 

As algorithms in the sites we use refine their suggestions to us, we in turn share data with the algorithms if we choose to engage with their suggestions. This can result in a very narrow range of choices as we endorse the algorithms’ recommendations.

When we're setting up news feeds, or just scrolling through our social media accounts, we can make sure that our preferences are set according to what we want to see, not what the platform thinks we should see. We can make our own decisions about who and what we listen to, read or watch. If we make more diverse choices in terms of content creators and platforms, our information landscape will be richer and more balanced.

Dealing with dis- and mis-information

Take a look at this infographic from Canada's MediaSmarts: 

False information on social media

If you become aware of false information being shared on social media, you can correct it in a new post. This is less confrontational and embarrassing for the person who posted it.  Remember that most people don't want to knowingly share false information; they probably posted it quickly without checking it first. Your correction should not be a challenge, just a new post (or a comment attached to the incorrect post) containing the correct factual, verifiable information. 

You can also improve your own practice by stopping to think about what you're sharing or posting. Is it something that you can verify independently, using an authoritative, reliable source of information?  If not, maybe it's better not to share until you can find out more.

Stop to check the source of the post - identify whether the account is legitimate or whether it belongs to a bot or troll. If the account is legitimate, check the credentials of the information's author or publisher.

For students and staff at the University of Newcastle, you might like this very short LinkedIn Learning course, Spotting Misinformation Online.

Unsure about how to access LinkedIn Learning? Go to the LinkedIn Learning page in this guide.

Resource evaluation tool

For tips on how to evaluate different resources such as websites, books, journal articles and more, try the library's Resource Evaluation Tool.

Are you worried about deepfakes? Take a look at Content Credentials, a tool which will tell you where, how, and when content was generated.

Evaluating digital content

Digital messages are designed for different purposes and audiences. Evaluating digital content is made easier by using the SIFT tool (Stop, Investigate the Source, Find Other Coverage, and Trace the Claims). Click on the blue rectangles below for information about each step.

Do I know or trust the source of this information? Do not read or share until you do. It can be easy to get overwhelmed during fact-checking. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed in your fact-checking efforts, STOP and take a second to remind yourself what your goal is and what you need to know about the source. Adjust your strategy if it isn't working and consider using another search term or a different website. Make sure you approach the problem at the right amount of depth for your purpose, such as an assignment or for interest.


Knowing the expertise and agenda of the source is crucial to your interpretation of what they say. Taking sixty seconds to figure out where it is from before reading will help you decide if it is worth your time, and if it is, help you to better understand its significance and trustworthiness. This can be done using some simple internet searches such as finding a Wikipedia page about the source and the authors and checking that the authors actually work for the organisation they claim to. Leave the original article open and click to open new tabs to find out more about the author/s and source.
Sometimes you don’t care about how the particular image or video reaches you. You care about the claim the image or video is making, and you want to know if it is true or false. You want to know if it represents a consensus viewpoint, or if it is the subject of much disagreement. In these cases, we encourage you to “find trusted coverage” that better suits your needs - more trusted, more in-depth, or maybe just more varied and covers the various aspects of the issue. There are a number of options available here and it may depend on the type of issue being investigated. If it has a current affairs aspect or something that has just arisen, then searching the internet may produce other articles or videos on the topic. If the issue is a new angle on something that has been researched previously, then searching the library databases or other specialised resources should also be considered..
It is important to trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context and get a sense if the version you saw presented the information accurately. If the source does not provide any names, organisations or other points to check then it may not be the best option to use or share. An internet search of these may provide greater context for the facts used. It is recommended to check a few and see if they have been used accurately. If the item is reporting on a research article, consider searching the library databases for the original source. Also, consider checking any images or footage used as they may not match with the story itself but are important in telling the story outlined in the source. How to do a reverse image search can be found on the Images tab.

Digital media literacy

Watch this LinkedIn Learning video to find out more about how to develop media literacy (note that this video is only available to staff and students of the University of Newcastle):

Develop media literacy from Working and Collaborating Online by Garrick Chow

Unsure about how to access LinkedIn Learning? Go to the LinkedIn Learning page in this guide.


A lot of information on this page is based on content from the following eBook:

Burkhardt, J.M. (2022). Media smart: Lessons, tips and strategies for librarians, classroom instructors and other information professionals. Facet Publishing.