Is it Truth or Propaganda?

How to be media savvy in the age of disinformation

Peggy O'Mara
8 min readJan 19, 2021


Photo by oatawa

I started out to write a piece on media literacy because I wondered what media was consumed by those who stormed the Capitol, but I soon came to realize that media literacy is impossible if one’s only source of information is social media. Not only does social media, by intent, create distinct news feeds for each user based on his or her previous viewing preferences, but it also blurs the distinction between news and propaganda in unique ways.

In traditional print journalism — think newspapers and magazines — there is a clear distinction between editorial content and propaganda. Sections are labeled News, Opinion and Entertainment, for example, and advertising is physically separated from editorial, sometimes even labeled with “advertising” at the top.

The internet, on the other hand, mixes up editorial and advertising on the same page and inserts advertisements in the middle of articles. Even so, you can usually tell the difference between the article and the advertisements.

With social media, however, news, opinion, entertainment, propaganda and advertising are all fed to a user without much distinction. While paid advertising may be labeled as “Sponsored Content,” it presents information in the style of an editorial or objective journalistic article. And, as there are no journalistic standards on social media and visual media is so easy to manipulate, users purposely adopt news formats and distort videos to communicate not news, but propaganda.

What is news?

News is simple. It’s coverage of noteworthy information about recent or important events and about public figures. News aims to present this information in an objective way and budding journalists are taught the “Five Ws”: Who?, What?, Where?, When?, and Why? News bases its coverage on reliable and recognizable sources on both sides of an issue and credits and discloses these sources. News is verified by fact checkers independent of the reporters.

According to John Silva at the News Literacy Project, “quality journalism” is bound by ethical standards and has these features:

  • Truthfulness/accuracy: Verifying all details that can be checked; using multiple…



Peggy O'Mara

Peggy O’Mara is an award winning journalist. She was the Editor and Publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years. Her focus is Family, Health, and Justice.