By Erik Bean, Ed.D.

When Close Encounters of the Third Kind debuted, the science fiction film began with a mystery, an unknown entity. People were drawn to it. It turned out to be The Devils Tower. They were enamored by it and summoned to it. But they did not know why. Before joining Media Literacy Now (MLN), as a Michigan representative, I had a similar experience. I call it Close Encounters of the Truth Kind. Maybe that’s because the truth seems so alien these days.

But how did I end up here? In my case it started when some people in my social media networks shared unsubstantiated and outdated information for personal or political gain.  I identified this phenomenon right before the January 2021 U.S. Capitol insurrection took place. And then I witnessed misinformation being dispersed during the pandemic. This left me thinking, How could people use information with no prudence or goodwill?

Then I wondered how could people everywhere protect themselves from being taken advantage of by such misleading news. Many of the headlines were flashy and captivating to lure individuals. They were used as click bait by entities making false promises in the form of ads masquerading as news. Still others were paid for via algorithms to the highest bidders. There was a plethora of falsehoods swirling around social media.  It was at this time that a feeling summoned me to the media literacy “now” cause.

I knew we were being bombarded with deceptive data and I also knew our personal biases can affect how we respond to information. As an educator with 25 years of experience teaching, I saw the quality of student paper sources dwindle. And I witnessed numerous school libraries being dismantled by school boards to save space and money. They just expected their students to Google everything. It was then that I realized it was time to write a book. I needed to create this book to help people evaluate sources. I also wanted to include how sharing falsehoods can have harmful mental health consequences. Of course, not just any book would do.

I studied all the media literacy books in the galaxy and found most were too vast, too long, and overly complicated. Mine needed to be short, concise, and user friendly. So, I joined forces with Gail Gorske, an amazing illustrator who provided all the artwork. My editor Sherry Wexler paid the finest attention to details. I utilized her knowledge of sociology and psychology to enable me to address the mental health consequences of being exposed to falsehoods.

On July 4th, 2021, through my nonprofit Michigan Healthy Mind Express foundation we published Bias Is All Around You: A Handbook for Inspecting Social Media & News Stories. We considered it “Freedom from Misinformation.” And I included Michigan State University School of Journalism Director, Tim Vos, Ph.D., who was eager to write the foreword.

The book discusses 7 major sources of all information bias. It provides a lesson in critical thinking and includes a process to judge the level of bias dubbed KLEMP with a focus on fallacies and how to judge journalistic sources. It encourages us to examine how we interact with information. And enables us to assess how our inner circle contributes to our biases.

Please take the following 7 question survey: How Does Your Own Biases Affect How You Interpret Information? ( Then go to our book website tools page to see the definitions of personal information bias to understand your results. If your inner circle is biased, what are the consequences? If you cannot properly interact and inspect information bias, it could:

1). Lead you to follow a false cause
2). Leave you feeling foolish
3). Tarnish your credibility
4). Attract the wrong people
5). Create undue stress
6). Compromise your values
7). Harm your mental health.

These undesirable outcomes need not occur! For it’s time to read between the lines and assess bias now! Having Close Encounters of the Truth Kind is a teachable moment. The galaxy is full of strange alien beings whose conflicts of interest, fallacies, and hidden agendas may be baked into any communication method they choose. Please join me in assisting Media Literacy Now to enact new legislation to require media literacy education. As our children travel through the social media galaxy, they can be more confident and choose to accept or reject any alien information they may encounter.

Erik’s Background:

Erik Bean, Ed.D., holds a master’s degree in journalism and a doctorate in education. Currently he is an English teacher at St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Suburban Detroit. He is also an associate research chair for The Center for Leadership Studies at the University of Phoenix where he serves as the Leadership Perspectives section editor of The Journal of Leadership Studies. Bean has 25 years of experience teaching English composition, journalism, film studies, humanities, cyber communications, critical thinking, and technical writing. He has taught at Wayne County Community College, Berkley Public Schools, and American Public University as well as authored numerous innovative academic books for teachers and students including Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express, a picture book that placed 2nd in education and illustrations from the 2020 Royal Dragonfly Children’s Literature contest. It features lessons on inclusion, neurodiversity, and internet safety.

His most recent effort is entitled, Bias Is All Around You: A Handbook for Inspecting Social Media & News Stories. In the summer of 2022, he earned a Henry Ford Innovation Nation First Place Teacher award for information literacy studies used in the classroom. Information literacy is the focus of his most recent presentations at the 2022 JEA/NSPA Fall National High School Journalism Convention, the 2022 National Council of Teachers of English ELATE Home Coming Conference, and the 2022 Qualitative Report Conference. In 2018 he also presented a paper on fake ads masquerading as news at the Internet, Politics, & Policy: Long Live Democracy, symposium, University of Oxford. He is honored to be the Michigan representative for Media Literacy Now.

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