Mona Eskelinen: Critical media literacy is an essential skill for any media and technology consumer

I recently finished my master’s thesis on critical media literacy where I explored the necessity of this concept in the present society. Some journalists, media literacy scholars and educators such as Kellner and Share have argued there is a greater need for critical media literacy due to increasing amount and variety of media, technologies and information.

It is easier to access this media with improved information and communication technologies, and many societies require a constant use of media for completing general tasks and chores. Hence, critical media literacy is 21stcentury skill alongside digital literacy and communication, and critical thinking. Researchers have stated the populism is increasing in the local and global media and people have less trust in the authorities. Different social media platforms are occasionally responsible for spreading false information, which can have drastic consequences on the individual and societies. The terms ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ have gained more popularity after the presidential campaign and election of Donald Trump. Lack of critical media literacy is also a threat against a healthy democracy, which has been demonstrated in political and presidential elections of other countries such as Germany, Brazil and Italy. Some blame the social media platform Facebook for being partially responsible for the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as Facebook enabled the spread of fake news in the area. There is an increasing amount of news articles on media criticism and literacy and even the current Pope has said spreading and writing fake news equals to being sexually aroused by excrement.

Critical media literacy concept has not received enough attention in the past from the educators and many of the current teachers do not possess the applicable skills for teaching critical media literacy. The situation is even worse in countries, where the state controls the freedom of speech. Fake news and alternative facts are often linked with the extreme right-wing politics but it is dangerous to assume they are only present in one aspect of society or political spectrum. Hence, we all have the responsibility to remain critical before sharing any information on our social media platforms. Sensationalism, advertisement, fear-mongering and populism can be attractive methods for some journalists as they can cause more ‘clicks’ and increase internet traffic to their articles. In addition, it is a poor justification to share information, which could be technically or hypothetically true if the actual reality does not follow this assumption.

Since the educational system is lacking behind with their pedagogical methods of including critical media literacy in their classes, individual media users are responsible for improving their skills. How can one improve them if critical media literacy is a new concept for them? When we consume media, we always have to question the stated information even though it might seem to be factual. If we wish to share information in our social media feeds, we should first look through several other sources to confirm if the information is actually correct. If the consumer cannot find any other similar articles in other respectable media sources or peer-reviewed research, they should refrain from sharing the information. I often use the rule that if something seems too good, it is most likely the opposite if I do not first conduct any fact-checking. Media consumers should also wait for confirmation of the information as it can be dangerous to share the information during the certain event or catastrophe. However, if one ever shares media or information which consists of fake news and alternative facts, they should always acknowledge their mistakes.

The political right has more room for spreading false information as some of their supporters will not care about objective truths and they will continue to support their candidates despite any accusations as seen during the election and presidency of Donald Trump. However, the political left is linked with objective facts and scientific research and hence, we have to be more careful with our media use as it can cause more damage to our social image and credibility. If we wish to improve the situation, we need to engage in dialogue and demand for changes in the education as many critical media literacy researchers have stated compulsory education system is the ideal place to teach these skills to the students and these classes could improve the student’s academic success, media competency and social participation in the future. These skills could benefit the society as a whole since citizens would make better informed decisions and create a more efficient democracy.

If you have any further questions or wish to read more about critical media literacy, I can provide some useful research articles on the topic. If you want to read some more information about critical media literacy research, you could start from Douglas Kellner, Jeff Share, Donna Alvermann, David Buckingham and Renee Hobbs.

Mona Eskelinen, Deputy board member of The Left Youth of Finland