TELUS is proud to be a Platinum Sponsor of Media Literacy Week. This article, from our partner MediaSmarts, provides some insight about this initiative and the increasing importance of media literacy in our hyper connected world.
This November, Canada will celebrate the 13th annual Media Literacy Week. This week – which has inspired similar events in other countries around the world – reflects the importance of media literacy in Canada and the important role that Canada has played in media literacy education. (Did you know that Canada was the first to include media literacy in official school curriculum, and that today it’s taught in every province and territory?)
The foundation of media literacy is critical thinking, and this year’s theme, “Fact or Fake? Help the World Stop Misinformation In Its Tracks,” highlights the importance of thinking critically about all of the media we consume. During that first Media Literacy Week in 2006, though, it would have been hard to imagine just how much our media landscape was about to change: Twitter had just been launched, Facebook had just been opened to the general public, and YouTube was only a year old. These brought new opportunities and new challenges with them because they were fundamentally different from all mass media before them: instead of making us the end of a distribution chain, they put is in the middle of an infinite network that allows us to receive and send content, and connected us, ultimately, to every other place and person online.
This fact is the source of nearly every issue and concern about youth online: the possibility that they might form possibly unhealthy or dangerous relationships; the risk of cyberbullying; the worry that they might give out personally identifying information, as well as that personal data might be collected about them; and, of course, the fracturing of the information landscape, allowing anyone to publish and share content online.
The need to verify information has always been an important part of media literacy, and even in the “golden age” when most of us got our news from a small number of sources we still needed to read or watch with a critical eye. The difference is that today news (and other information) are likely to come to us indirectly, from friends or other intermediate sources, and we often need to take a few extra steps to verify the original source before we can decide whether or not it’s reliable.
There are advantages to our networked world, though. Today, it’s easy to check how different sources or news outlets are covering the same story (or if more than one outlet is even carrying the story), and in less than a minute we can check an online encyclopedia to get a story’s context or visit a fact-checking site to see if it’s already been debunked. Instead of saying that the Internet has made it necessary for us to fact-check our news, therefore, it might be more accurate to say that it’s made it more urgent but also provided us with much more powerful tools for doing it.
Most importantly, today we are all not just consumers but broadcasters as well: when information comes to us we decide whether or not to share it with our friends, our families, our followers on Twitter or Instagram. We should see this as an important responsibility, but it’s a tremendous opportunity as well. Not only do we have the power to stop misinformation in its tracks, we can also make our voices heard – and amplify the voices of those who might otherwise go unheard.
So how do we do that? To begin with, we need to be especially skeptical of anything that we want to agree with, anything that supports what we already believe, anything that seems “too good to be true” and double-check it before sharing. This doesn’t have to be a big commitment: if you know a few basic steps, most of the time you can find out if something’s real or fake in just a few minutes.
The reason Media Literacy Week is a national event – and why media literacy is in the curriculum across Canada – is because media literacy is an essential part of citizenship in today’s world. Visit the Media Literacy Week website (www.medialiteracyweek.ca) to see how people near you are marking the week and to find ways that you can help the young people in your lives become active, responsible digital citizens.