Media literacy is needed more than ever
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We are all faced with a lot of things right now. We are living through health and economic crises. Many of us learn and work from home with little support. And we’re only two weeks away from election day.
All of these issues contribute to another crisis that does not receive as much attention: media saturation and exhaustion. We are inundated with political messages around the elections and disinformation around the pandemic, and we are also more dependent than ever on media technologies.
Do we have the critical tools to face and make sense of all these media that dominate our attention? Media literacy is more important than ever.
Over the past few months, due to the pandemic, we’ve all probably spent even more time in front of screens. For students whose learning has moved 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 screens – from media security to media literacy. The rush to e-learning has not only highlighted the digital divide that persists in access, but also deep divides in educational equity. Without media literacy, these divisions will continue to grow, disproportionately affecting low-income and rural 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 social media. It is an expansion of traditional literacy that takes into account all the ways we process and produce information. The aim of media literacy is to enable active citizens to be critical thinkers and responsible media producers.
Unfortunately, we are failing to meet the learning challenges of the 21st century. On average, teens in the United States spend almost seven and a half hours a day with entertainment media – more time than they spend in school!
Think about all the ads they get exposed to, all the click traps and misinformation, all the social media drama, all their attention captured and exploited in search of data. Also think about 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 in positive and negative ways, but we do not critically engage with the media in our classrooms and we do not use the media as the powerful learning tools that they can be.
We are also in the midst of a global epidemic of disinformation. The ‘infodemic’ around the coronavirus has exacerbated a problem that we have largely overlooked for over a decade: that there is an overabundance of information at our disposal that we don’t have the time or the skills to understand. .
Young people in particular find it difficult to identify where information comes from online or to distinguish the credible from the 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 probably raise eyebrows.
We are drowned in the media and disinformation, we are in the midst of a tragic health crisis and we have elections in two weeks. How important is it to you that people not only can effectively access information, but also be able to analyze and critically assess that information before risking their health or voting?
The need for media literacy is more urgent than ever. Maine should be leading this fight, as we have been in so many other fights. Legislative efforts are being made across the country to ensure that media education is an essential component of formal education.
Next week (October 26-30) is National Media Literacy Week. Let leaders in your school and community know that you believe media literacy is vital to the education and health of our students and our democracy. You can also participate in Media Literacy Week through the free, virtual Literacy Challenge at the Fogler Library and the Department of Communications Journalism at the University of Maine.
Alan Berry is a doctoral student at the University of Maine and Head of the State of Maine 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 section of the National Strategic scholarship network, which brings together academics from across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Membership columns appear in the BDN every two weeks.
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