By Lindsey Wilson, Contributor

As many people know, online media sources are relatively new. The internet, created in the early 1990’s, has become a learning curve for a number of Americans. Never before in history have people had the ability to research anything their heart desires in a matter of seconds, all while sitting in their living room.

I am well aware I am part of the small percentage of people who have had extensive media training. I recently graduated from university, where I studied public relations and journalism at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Over those four years, I learned every in and out of the media — how to spot phishing schemes, fake news and find credible sources for my papers in my classes. It wasn’t until I came home during COVID-19 that I found that many Americans, especially older generations, do not have nearly the same amount of media training as I do.

My grandmother, Judy, has lived an astonishing life. She raised her five children on her own in the 70s and 80s, when single mother households were not as common. She has always been determined to provide for herself and her family, even now, working as a real estate agent and event planner at a local golf course. She is also active in her community, regularly providing treats to the police and fire stations close to her home. 

Author Lindsey Wilson and her grandmother, Grandma Judy

Grandma Judy is also an active social media user, and Facebook is her site of choice. She’s been on Facebook for over 10 years. Her main use of the site is to stay connected with family and friends that are spread across the globe. She also commonly posts pictures of her life and her grandkids as well as a few shared memes every now and then.

I always assumed that she knew what was real and not online, especially since she had been on Facebook for so long, but as Christmas rolled around and she started to become interested in ads promoting gifts that would be good fits for people on her list, I began to second guess myself. She told me that she had bought a Christmas gift for my sister back in September, but never received an email confirmation, but the money had been taken out of her account. I knew that she had become a victim to online shopping phishing, something that is unfortunately common for people her age.

This was when I began to educate her on different types of media literacy. She is good at spotting fake news on her Facebook feed, but advertisements highlighting discounted items seem to be trickier for her to spot. I can’t say that I haven’t fallen victim to this before either – I’m still waiting on a hairspray I ordered back in the summer of 2019 (I don’t think it’ll be coming). I made it a mission to create a plan for her so she knows what is true and false, and I think that it can be useful for others trying to protect their family members from similar situations. 

  • Spotting Phishing Together – Grandma Judy and I looked through her Facebook feed together, specifically looking at her targeted ads. I pointed out to her the legitimate pages have a blue checkmark, meaning that they were verified by Facebook to be a legitimate seller. I suggested to her that if she sees an online retailer without a verification checkmark, to Google the name of the retailer followed by ‘phishing’. If she found it on her feed, it has likely been on thousands of other feeds around the country.
  • Reverse-Image Search – Along with the initial tracking of legitimate websites, I also taught Grandma Judy how to use the Reverse Image Search tool by Google. In most cases, the photos used by the phishing retailers are real products that are available for purchase, and a reverse image search could be an easy way to find the product that the buyer was initially interested in. 
  • If all else fails, call me – Deciphering fake from real retailers can be very tricky to spot. Every day, online phishing retailers are becoming smarter about their ways to get into American’s wallets. I told Grandma Judy this, and let her know that she should call or text me when she does plan on buying something off of Facebook. Having a second pair of eyes look at a website prior to purchasing something is an extremely effective way to protect people from online phishing retailers.

An important thing to note that learning media literacy is not something that can be taught overnight. It takes dedication on both ends to combat online phishing schemes, in order to protect those who are most vulnerable. 

Lindsey Wilson is a recent graduate from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA where she studied public relations and journalism. Her love of journalism came to her while writing for the GU school newspaper, The Gonzaga Bulletin. She enjoys cooking, with hopes to one day start a food blog guiding new college-aged cooks with healthy and affordable recipes. 

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