The millennial generation is clearly conversant with the technical aspects of our information age but young people are among the most vulnerable to media misapplications. There is a tendency towards manipulation of data and information flow in the attention economy. Students need to acquire the knowledge and skills to distinguish between fact and fiction in our highly digitalized and mediatized world. Media literacy is becoming an essential component of education. It is not only of vital importance to develop critical thinking to recognize disinformation but also to harness the full potential of the media in a creative way.
What exactly is media literacy and how should it be taught most effectively? How can media literacy be used to nurture digital citizenship? How can young media consumers become creative innovators? In this selection of articles, specialists in this field bring their own insights and perspectives to the role of media literacy in the digital age.
Media Literacy’s Pivotal Role in a Disinformation Society
Ms Eva Van Passel
Media Programme Manager, Evens Foundation
What is Media Literacy and How Should We Teach it?
Ms Tessa Jolls
President and CEO, Center for Media Literacy
Preparing African Youth for a Post-Truth World
Mr. Chido Onumah
Coordinator, African Centre for Media & Information Literacy
Diverse Discourse, Limited Action: Media Literacy in East Asia
Dr. Tzu-bin Lin
Associate professor, National Taiwan Normal University
Media Literacy: A Key to Digital Citizenship
Dr. Lesley Farmer
Professor, California State University Long Beach
Why is Media Education Critical in Today’s Attention Economy?
Secretary General, European Association for Viewers Interests (EAVI)
Before this happens, individuals should be at least aware of their state, and media literacy is key.
-You are a citizen. Meaning you can participate in public life through your vote for instance. Democracy is increasingly reliant on the capacity of people to obtain trustworthy information and shape opinion as to how to react to any given issue.
- You are a consumer. You can make informed decisions about your purchases, be able to recognise advertising and product placement, for instance. You can be aware of business models of social media where you are the product, you are consumed, and the corporate world makes a profit on you. In exchange you consume your time endlessly with your attention being grabbed and pulled in all directions in largely unsatisfactory online experiences.
- You are a human being. The capacity of managing your relationships online is also important. How you create and share posts, what you say and to who, and whether on WhatsApp or Messenger all have an influence. Our online behavior is always profiled to provide data to companies capable of making a “good” use of it. We read stories these days about how companies used personal data from Facebook of tens of millions of Americans to influence election results for instance.
The environment that surrounds us is full of different media we can interact with and that compete for our attention. Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate, create and share in the media in all its forms, it is to be aware of how media is used and mis-used. In other words, it is the capacity of benefitting from the media, being aware of the processes and interests that are behind the screen and being in control of online decisions.
In order to acquire this essential 21st century skillset we need good and sound media education, starting at the youngest age. Today, Media education is still mainly taught by a few teachers of another subject who are interested in media but have not followed any structured training. For children to learn to be media literate, it must become a priority for the educational system. And this also means that the adults too need training. It is also crucial that research is ongoing but needs to be rapidly produced as in such a shifting environment, things quickly become out of date.
Inoculation is better than cure to fight for instance the “fake news” phenomena - or disinformation to use the correct term - but it takes time. We at EAVI believe that the response of the educational and regulatory systems should speed up considerably, as users themselves need support and guidance to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge. In any case, while media literacy is a key component in achieving social and political progress, is not a panacea for all threats. We believe therefore that it is not sufficient to simply raise awareness about how and why certain news is produced and consumed, but it is also necessary that authorities take a more active role in regulating the distribution of that information rather than hoping that millions of people will fast become media-wise.
To conclude, with the current ubiquity of the media, being media literate is now a prerequisite to participate in public life in all its forms, from education to commerce, politics to socialising. In today’s world this is nothing less than an essential human right.