Media literacy is needed more than ever
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We are all dealing with a lot of things right now. We are going through health and economic crises. Many of us are learning and working from home with little support. And we are only two weeks away from Election Day.
All of these issues contribute to another crisis that doesn’t get as much attention: media saturation and burnout. We are inundated with political messaging around the election and misinformation around the pandemic, and we are also more dependent than ever on media technologies.
Do we have the essential tools to face and make sense of all these media dominating our attention? Media literacy is more important than ever.
Over the past few months, due to the pandemic, we’ve probably all been spending even more time in front of screens. For students whose learning has shifted online, this means that virtually all of their educational and social needs are mediated through screens.
It’s a great opportunity to shift our conversations around screen time, from how much we use screens to how we use them – from media safety to media literacy. The e-learning rush has not only exposed the lingering digital divide in access, but also the deep divides in educational equity. Without media literacy, these divides will continue to grow, disproportionately affecting rural and low-income communities in Maine and beyond.
Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of media, including news, advertising, video games, digital media, and media social. It is an expansion of traditional literacy that explains all the ways we process and produce information. The goal of media literacy is to empower active citizens to be critical thinkers and responsible producers of media.
Unfortunately, we are failing to meet the learning challenges of the 21st century. On average, teenagers in the United States spend nearly seven and a half hours a day with entertainment media – more time than they spend in school!
Think of all the ads they’re exposed to, all the clickbait and misinformation, all the drama on social media, all their attention captured and mined for data. Think also of all the advantages that new media offer us: the skills they help us develop; the relationships and networks they enable; and the many perspectives and voices they amplify. The media has so much power to influence us positively and negatively, but we don’t critically engage with the media in our classrooms and we don’t use the media as the powerful learning tools they can be.
We are also in the midst of a global epidemic of misinformation. The “infodemic” around the coronavirus has exacerbated a problem that we have largely overlooked for more than a decade: that there is an overabundance of information at our disposal that we don’t have the time or skills to understand. .
Young people especially have a hard time identifying where information comes from online or distinguishing between believable and fake. In a recent report, when teens were asked to identify the news sources they trusted most on social media and YouTube, the most frequently mentioned were PewDiePie, CNN, Trevor Noah, Donald Trump and Beyoncé. All five will likely raise eyebrows.
We are drowned in media and misinformation, we are in the midst of a tragic health crisis and we have an election in two weeks. How important is it to you that people not only can access information effectively, but also be able to critically analyze and evaluate that information before risking their health or voting?
The need for media literacy is more urgent than ever. Maine should lead this fight because we have been a leader in so many other fights. Legislative efforts are being made across the country to ensure that media literacy is an essential component of formal education.
Next week (October 26-30) is National Media Literacy Week. Let your school and community leaders know that you believe media literacy is essential to the education and health of our students and to our democracy. You can also participate in Media Literacy Week through the free, virtual Information Literacy Challenge, from Fogler Library and the University of Maine’s Department of Communication Journalism.
Alan Berry is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maine and Chief of the Maine State Section for Media Literacy Now. This column reflects his opinions and expertise and does not speak for the university. He is a member of the Maine chapter of the National Strategic Fellowship Network, which brings together scholars from across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every two weeks.
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