Lorin Akbiyik, Rovena Carvalho Ferreira, Rodelio Concepcion, Andira Figueroa Vargas, Sasha Miller, Sara Teklay
In the core of today’s digital society, social media reigns supreme. It combines social interactions, entertainment and source of news, not to mention that it created a shift from users as mere spectators to users also as creators of content. On your timelines you see not only posts from the friends, groups and pages that you follow (which normally already include a large amount of clickbait) , but also, due to the work of algorithms, suggested posts come around often. To be able to comb through this sea of information floating around – which may include hate speech, fake news and other harmful content – and distinguish what are reliable sources or not, being a digital and media literate is paramount.
Digital and media illiterates are easier prey to online fake news, senior citizens are considered more vulnerable in this scenario.
The European approach to digital & media literacy aims to improve user’s understanding of and confidence in digital products to empower the individual to make informed choices. Throughout the last decade, the EU institutions carried out many projects, activities and educational programs to tackle the issue. Even with all these efforts, which include a Media Literacy Expert Group, a Communication and a Recommendation by the Commission, an Audiovisual Media Services Directive and the Safer Internet Plus project, we still have a long way to go.
Challenges in improving media literacy
The results of a recent public consultation on fake news and online disinformation do not lie: over 97% of citizens believe that they have been exposed to fake news, and 74% consider social media and messaging apps as its primary channels. They believe that fake news is highly likely to cause harm to society, particularly in political affairs, immigration, minorities and security. Interestingly, 71% of respondents favor more investments in educating and empowering users for better assessing and using online information.
With those numbers in mind, the Commission published a Communication on Tackling online disinformation: a European Approach which brings further propositions to enhance media literacy.
Nonetheless, the increase in the variety of platforms and user-generated content makes the internet a difficult field to master in all its details. Moreover, the policies to improve media literacy mainly focus on user empowerment, however, too much emphasis on individual improvement and personal responsibility can lead individuals to have a false sense of confidence in their skills. Also, it can take the responsibility from media creators, producers and social media platforms or regulators.
There is also the financial issue – after all the projects need funding – as well as the lack of motivation and interest from citizens, especially the digital natives, to seek or take part in them. Even if all of those obstacles are overcome, the changing nature of media requires constantly new skills and assessment criteria, not to mention the difficulty in evaluating the success of training programs.
What else can be done?
The matter, as we’ve seen, is rather complex! The authorities have been doing their part, however it is crucial to be able to engage citizens more deeply. We believe that a) digital & media literacy being included in the school curricula in all Member States, b) emphasizing on improving critical thinking and evaluation, as well as c) a better engagement among all the stakeholders are necessary to achieve better levels of digital & media literacy sooner.
All the same, there is no closing the gap. Instead of a long winding road, this process resembles more a never-ending circle – technology, social platforms and media will continue to evolve and change. Therefore, the skills necessary to be considered digitally and media literate in this context are not set in stone. They need to advance accordingly through regular assessments, new policies and recycling of the programs in place.