MIL unchained | #mediadev - media development insights and analysis | DW | 18.12.2018
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MIL unchained

Recently, Media and Information Literacy went from niche to center stage in media development focusing on topics such as radicalization or disinformation. Here, four experts take on the issue in a question chain format.

DW Akademie Bildkombo Renée Hobbs, Dennis Reineck, Sonia Livingstone, Jordi Torrent (DW; Privat)

Media and Information Literacy experts: René Hobbs, Dennis Reineck, Sonia Livingstone, Jordi Torrent

In the #mediadev question chain, experts share their thoughts on a specific issue by answering to a question put forward by a peer. They contribute in the form of a short text, but also by posing a new question as well as by suggesting a colleague who is then contacted.

The first question, put forward by #mediadev, has been answered by DW Akademie's Dennis Reineck.

How can MIL contribute to tackle disinformation?

Dennis Reineck: Information is both a credence and an experience good. It's a credence good because citizens don't have the time to check whether something is right or wrong. Fact checking initiatives exist precisely because the ordinary user will generally not go to the trouble of doing a reverse image search or conduct journalist-style research. Often on social media - and this is where new levels and types of disinformation (such as memes) are being disseminated - people trust in what their friends share and neglect where the information comes from. What MIL can do is give them an awareness that sources are important and foster a critical attitude to build defenses against falling for random allegations. This involves questioning whether allegations are plausible, asking who might be interested in disseminating such allegations, and viewing other trusted sources to find out if the allegations are grounded in fact.

This brings me to my second point: Information is an experience good because citizens can and do gather knowledge about who to trust. Certain sources may regularly be discredited by fact-checking initiatives or trustworthy media, or users may find that certain friends or acquaintances consistently share false information.

 Dennis Reineck (DW)

"Information is an experience good because citizens can and do gather knowledge about who to trust", says DW Akademie's expert Dennis Reineck.

MIL enables citizens to reflect on these experiences, much in the same way that doctors and nutritional experts help people reflect on how their way of living affects their health. Making people conscious of their information habits and choices, encouraging them to speak out if what they get served from friends or media is informational "junk food", are key to making sure that people are getting information they can trust and base their decisions upon.

Let me make one last point: Disinformation often gets shared not because people think it is in fact true, but either because people know it is wrong and they consciously want to influence others (as in the case of alledged Russian interference in the last US elections), or  because rallying behind a certain cause (as in the case of right wing opposition to support for refugees) is more important to people than the truth. If you compare it to a Football game, disinformation is equivalent to hardcore fans taking sides with their team no matter what the referee says (or the slowmotion replay suggests). MIL is about reminding people of the rules of the game, fostering fair play, a taste for plurality, equal rights and evidence-based information, rather than partizanship and competition at any cost.  

Dennis Reineck's brought up the following questions for Jordi Torrent from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations:

What contribution can MIL make in countering extremism and radicalization? 

Jordi Torrent: Extremism and radicalization are complex notions that need careful and nuanced explanations. Just to quickly set up a framework of reference, I would like to repeat here the words of the Secretary General of the United Nations in the Preamble of the Security Council Resolution 2178/2014, “over the long term, the biggest threat to terrorists is not the power of missiles –it is the politics of inclusion.”

MIL on its own will not stop someone from becoming radicalized and perhaps even being involved in violent acts of terrorism. MIL will certainly help to develop critical thinking skills applied to media messages, skills that will help individuals to take emotional distance from media narratives that reinforce polarization and violent extremism. But for this to happen the individual needs to feel included in the community where she/he lives as well as protected from political corruption. He/she needs to feel as an excepted member of society, with all the rights and obligations.

Jordi Torrent (DW Akademie)

Jordi Torrent: "Peace will not be sustainable if there is a lack of strong political will for social inclusion."

In my opinion, MIL is part of education in general and of civic education in particular. Civic education is key for peace building, but again, peace will not be sustainable if there is a lack of strong political will for social inclusion. When these elements are in place, then MIL will flourish as a key educational ingredient for the development of ethical dialogue and the peaceful resolution/analysis of different points of views. And as such, MIL will then certainly contribute to countering extremism and radicalization.

Jordi Torrent had a question for Renee Hobbs, Professor of Communication Studies at the Harrington School of Communication and Media: 

Would you see MIL included in the mandatory curriculum of primary and secondary schools? If yes, How? If not, Why?

Renee Hobbs: When media and information literacy is embedded in the mandatory curriculum in primary and secondary schools, it will be a giant step forward in ensuring that the practice of literacy extends its benefit to all members of society. Right now, because literacy is conceptualized as the reading and writing of printed texts, a large number of learners are disengaged and unmotivated. Right now, because literacy education focuses exclusively on the reading of classic literature, a large number of learners view education as a mere credential with little relevance to their lives. As a result, too many learners graduate from high school lacking intellectual curiosity and with little interest in reading for a lifetime of learning and cultural enrichment. Those who succeed in this system tend to be a privileged minority.   

When we expand the concept of "text" to include all the ways that humans share meaning in contemporary society, literacy education becomes more robust. Media and information literacy curriculum is designed in such a way as to be continually relevant, making active use of contemporary news, current events, media, technology and popular culture. Today we share meaning through language, photographs, graphic design, podcasts, music, film, news media, memes, comics, interactive and social media and digital content of all kinds. These forms and formats need to come into the classroom where they can be examined. Learners also need to create and share meaning using these forms, moving beyond an exclusive reliance on writing academic essays.  With the power of face-to-face and online professional learning experiences, educators can learn to bring media and information literacy competencies into the classroom as they develop these competencies themselves.

 René Hobbs (DW Akademie)

"When we expand the concept of "text" (...) literacy education becomes more robust", says MIL-expert Renee Hobbs.

When learners have the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking skills responding to contemporary media, their engagement and motivation increases. Because media and information literacy emphasizes hands-on, minds-on project based learning, learners see the relevance of assignments and activities, as media and information literacy pedagogies explicitly connect the classroom to the living room. Learners begin to see themselves as authors whose ideas have value and potential civic impact. Media and information literacy expands the concept of literacy to align with the realities of the digital age, better preparing learners to thrive. 

Rene Hobbs forwarded the following question to her colleague Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science:

How does MIL both empower and protect children and young people?

Sonia Livingstone: In so many ways! In a world of printed texts, learning to read and write is crucial, as recognised by the education system of every country in the world. Now we live in a world of digital media networks. It is, now, equally vital that children and young people learn to access, interpret and critique today’s digital texts, and that they learn to create and share their own digital texts with others. Centuries passed between the invention of the printing press and a global commitment to literacy for all, and even today the latter is not fulfilled. I hope we don’t have to wait centuries for media and information literacy education for all!

I would point to three impediments to progress. One is that too many adults in the world’s wealthy countries think that children use media for frivolous or time-wasting or ‘just’ entertaining purposes. In fact, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states children have the right to play, not least (though not only) because play supports agentic, child-led learning. Another is that fears of risk online, while partially valid, have become overblown to the point where adults fear for children when they explore or experiment online or use digital networks to meet and share ideas with others. A third is that we haven’t put enough imagination into elaborating the wide range of benefits that digital networks can offer to children and young people; we list information, communication and learning – but information about what? Communication for what? Whose idea of learning?

Sonia Livingstone (Privat)

Sonia Livingstone: "MIL can empower and protect children and young people online."

I believe that if we could recognise children’s own diverse, spontaneous and valid interests in information and communication technologies, if we could get our fears into perspective, and if we could imagine – and provide for – a genuine wealth of resources for children online that have been designed to support their development to the full, then it would be obvious to everyone that MIL can empower and protect children and young people online. It’s time for adults to stop deploring the fact that children and young people gaze into their screens and start providing resources that merit their gaze, along with imaginative conversations between children and adults that scaffold the outcomes of mediated activities for their deeper benefit.

New contributions will be published on an ongoing basis.