Media and Information Literacy: A Key to Unlock the Power of Media
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“Fake it until you make it”, says an English aphorism. That is exactly how a group of teenagers from a small Macedonian city, Veles,made it by faking news and spreading them on social media. Until the autumn of 2016, not many had heard about the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, even less about Veles. The city became infamous thanks to a dozen of teens, who used the US presidential elections to earn money by promoting fake news. The country was even dubbed to be the ‘Fake News Factory’ or ‘Fake News Land’ by the world’s media.
This proves just how far and how fast information can travel in today’s digital society. The digitalization of media has facilitated our access to information, but at the same time, it has exposed us to more information than we can process with the speed that outstrips our capacity to react to the information. This combined with the erosion of press freedom, government control over media, politicization of media ownership, censorship, lack of ethical reporting have made us even more vulnerable to manipulation, misinformation and other deceptive practices. In such a distorted media landscape - now more than ever - we need media and information literacy skills in order to critically consume news and information and to create and share media content in a responsible and ethical way, while using the advantages of digital technology and networks.
Media and information literacy (MIL) is a prerequisite for making informed decisions, engaging in the public debate and becoming responsible and active citizens. Therefore, we should be empowered and encouraged to develop such skills at a young age. Being a young person spending time with other young people, working with high school students and living with a teenage sister, I have realized that young people understand the MIL concept, but lack the practical skills how to assess whether something is true or false.
When my teenage sister asks me how to figure out if a news item is false or not, I usually answer: “Check everything!”
The checklist is as following:
- Check the source,
- Find the author,
- Go through the Impressum and
- Check whether the media content follows the professional and ethical journalistic standards in order to see if the news item is credible and newsworthy.
There is an abundance of online resources created by relevant organizations at our disposal for recognizing fake news, manipulation, disinformation and misleading information. Then comes the hardest part; breaking down the message into meaningful elements, judging them separately, finding patterns and decoding the real meaning behind the media content.
Being media literate doesn’t mean just being able to critically access, analyze, evaluate, but also create media content. Creating media content enables us to express our views and opinions about important issues, to participate in the public debate, to influence decision-makers, as well as to participate in the policy creation.
Most of all, media and information literacy helps us understand the importance of media as watchdogs of democracy and the public interest. Media is one of the most powerful ally the public has to enhance the public sphere, to force the governmental accountability and to influence decision-making processes.
Do not wait - go ahead, unlock the power of media, promote freedom of expression and shape a better world for all of us!