Media literacy

PM Modi’s message is a cue for media literacy

Ram Kumar Kaushik

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent speech expressing concern over disinformation campaigns on social media drew attention to the need for media literacy and corrective measures by government institutions.

Tackling fake news, the prime minister recently told the gathering of state interior ministers not to hesitate to take legal action against such regressive forces. He raised the issue of global concerns at a time when the world was celebrating World Media and Information Literacy Week (24-31 October) designated by UNESCO to educate people to distinguish fact from fiction.

His speech comes amid cases in which fake news claiming to expose the relationship between a social media platform and politicians was reported, but later turned out to be false and based on fabricated sources.

Modi’s message to ministers was that India, as the largest democracy, must share the responsibility of educating people in media and information literacy. In this world of disinformation and misinformation, media literacy is more important than ever. This then brings us to the question of what is media literacy.

The US-based organization – Center for Media Literacy defines it as “Media literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework for accessing, analyzing, evaluating, creating and participating in messages in various forms – from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy provides an understanding of the role of media in society as well as the essential investigative and self-expression skills needed by citizens of a democracy.

As of today, anyone with Internet access is free to communicate their personal opinions in the public domain. The wide reach of the internet and the availability of social media platforms as a democratic right has made it possible for every individual to air their views to the masses.

During the Covid pandemic, we have witnessed the spread of fake content by untrustworthy sources through social media, especially instant messaging platforms. Such misinformation messages have caused panic and confusion about diseases and their treatment. Propaganda stories published about the adverse effects of the Covid vaccine have caused people not to take the vaccine and this has led to dire consequences for some people.

In this scenario, consciously or unconsciously, we can all fall prey to propaganda. There is a tendency to pass the content on to our friends and supporters without even bothering to check the facts.

The spread of misinformation and disinformation, especially via social media, has become a common problem in India. A lack of credible digital media literacy programs and loose regulation of social media platforms are contributing factors.

The government has launched some important measures to determine the responsibility of digital and social media platforms for such acts. The Ministry of Information Technology released amended rules – IT Rules Amendment Rules (Intermediate Guidelines and Digital Media Code of Ethics)-2022 on October 28.

In the current year no. of Internet users has swelled to 923.23 million and over the next three years the numbers are projected to reach up to 1,134.04 million in India. Almost 50% of India’s population has internet access and due to low data cost, it has been drastically reduced to Rs. 10.55 per GB.

Easily affordable Internet access increased average data consumption in a month to 17-18 GB per active user. The population of social media users has grown by leaps and bounds in India.

Currently, 467 million Indians use different social media platforms to consume content and information. WhatsApp has the world’s largest market in India with over 300 million users and it is followed by the other platform of the same giant – Facebook.

India has become the place where social media users upload more content than anywhere in the world. The various studies reveal that most Indian users tend to trust content from family and friends. Most of the messages received are transmitted without control or verification, which further leads to misinformation in social circles. (Data source: Statista)**

Alarming data reveals that half of digital and social media users are unaware of fact-checking or verification tools. The data highlights the urgent need to integrate media literacy into the formal education system, from schools to universities in India.

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This is necessary in the largest democracy in the world, misinformation can harden public opinion, which could have undesirable consequences. If media literacy was promoted, it would definitely have a positive impact on people’s content consumption behavior.

(The author is a senior print and television journalist)

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