Media literacy

Two parallel realities: a contradiction in media literacy?


How important is media literacy when our diverse digital skills and engagement with technology fail to intersect with our ability to identify ideologies and asymmetries within media? LSE PhD student Afroditi Koulaxi examines why media literacy can be a problematic concept in the context of Greek migrants after her recent fieldwork in Athens.

In an effort to uncover how face-to-face encounters with migrant populations in a multicultural neighborhood might challenge mediated representations of the respective groups (and vice versa), I deploy online participant ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews with Greek citizens from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in my doctoral research.

Mediating networks create the notion of a multicultural neighborhood, which then becomes part of an imagined national identity. These imagined identities reaffirm boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ (particularly with respect to migrants) to limit or expand spaces of acceptance, with deep-rooted stereotypes and fears reproducing over time. They create parallel realities that capture the experience of the neighborhood in hyper-real space; and this imagined space can become more real than the real.

A Greek paradox?

My research focuses specifically on the bustling multicultural neighborhood of Kypseli in the heart of Athens, home to approximately 50,000 mostly middle and working class people. While the area was once favored by more affluent citizens due to its central location in Athens, the last century has seen more affluent citizens move to the outskirts, leading to lower property prices in Kypseli . Today, the neighborhood is home to residents of various socioeconomic backgrounds—and primarily lower-middle-class and working-class individuals—including established and new migrant populations.

The Greeks of Kypseli frequently refer to their own histories, their previous experience with migrant populations, as well as their publicized encounters. By the latter, I mean any information that is not experienced first-hand, such as what people tell them about their experience with migrants or what they see on social media platforms and/or the media” traditional” about migrants.

My findings show a media addiction, which is completely normalized, in everyday life. In a way, this dependence amounts to an almost banal trust in the media. The people I spoke to constantly referred to the media in an attempt to legitimize their opinions – which is a paradox of the mediated society, considering that the majority of my participants are well aware that the media is created, manipulated, even falsified .

However, when I asked participants to reflect on their media experiences in a more conscious and reflective way, it appeared that they understood media literacy as distrust of the media. A middle-class woman told me of her fear of strangers because “on a daily basis, the criminal news is full of burglaries by foreigners. The majority of newsletters are dedicated to this news.She, however, insists that she does not believe such media representations:

“Every television channel and journalist reports events from a given political spectrum. So, I try to find out the truth on my own, by watching news from different media, from different political alignments. It’s not about the report, it’s about the interpretation of the report. It’s how they portray certain events.

Another participant spoke about media portrayals in general that make him feel insecure in the neighborhood:

“You don’t hear people speaking in Greek. I don’t let my wife and daughter cross the main square. I always go with them. I feel like my daughter doesn’t feel safe. We read about it on online news platforms, people talk about it in the neighborhood.

The man also spoke about the steps he takes to protect himself and his daughter online when browsing Greek media and using media technologies in his daily life:

“I don’t want to upload a picture of myself. I communicate with friends and read the news, but my face doesn’t appear anywhere on Facebook. I don’t want to ‘advertise’ my daughter. It doesn’t There’s no reason for that. Anyone who wants to access my profile will find a way to do so. It’s about online protection.

The role of mediation

Does mediation – including different modes of communication, from face-to-face encounters in the city to digital encounters on social media platforms – drive and guide the experience?

The working and middle class people of Kypseli whom I interviewed can be described as media savvy. They constructively use social media platforms to promote their work and communicate with their clients and are concerned about online surveillance and privacy.

However, my preliminary findings indicate that:

  • The nature of their media education is restricted and subject to racial and socio-cultural orders that justify discourses that are often totally contradictory with their (functional) literacy skills.
  • Their cultural capital (including education and lifestyle) does not prevent them from circulating and believing the misinformation and stereotypes that are reproduced over time.
  • Their awareness of power relations and asymmetries within the media are not necessarily synonymous with media literacy duly aware of how people construct their perceptions of established and recent arrivals of migrant populations.

Why are these early Kypseli results potentially problematic?

Despite their functional, even critical media culture, as well as their cultural capital, individuals reproduce race-mediated stereotypes and discourses. One explanation could be that this type of media literacy is always subject to political/ideological alignment, which consequently justifies discourses that could be at odds with people’s (functional) literacy skills. The fact that people realize power relations in the media does not necessarily lead to a level of media literacy that is fully aware of how people construct their opinions about migrants and refugees. Thus, it is vital to explore media literacy in a complex system of mediation, where media, ideology, racism and structures of inequality have a role to play.

This article gives the author’s point of view, not the position of the [email protected] blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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