As media educators we need to be up to date with the media developments and dynamic, with how media businesses change over time. We need to understand how we use media contents and tools, what meanings we associate to those media and how different other people use them.
We should be able to understand all these changes and media functions with an open mind. We should be able to put our teaching into context and to educate about media in a relevant and constructive way. We should be open to negotiation with our students at all times.
All very nice resolutions for an educator, aren’t they? But an open mind is often discouraged by policies and funding criteria that define media production, use and effects, and as a result media education, in narrow and simplistic terms. As it is the case with the much debated issue of “fake news” and how media (literacy) education could counteract.
Let’s take fake news, for instance.
The final result of the 2016 US presidential elections and Brexit have been the most quoted examples of dramatic consequences of fake news in the past two years. The worries about the rise of fake news on social media are high and the quest for solutions, as high.
The media literacy proposed solutions focus many times on a cause and effect kind of perception about the issue, that ignores the larger context. Teaching methods like illustrating one’s media literacy class with fake news or showing one’s students how to verify the information are seen as guarantees for a more responsible news media consumer. If only things were that simple!
This does not mean we should not teach our students how to verify the accuracy of the information. But while we do that, we should try to dig deeper into the issue of fake news and disinformation. Try to put it into its social and economic context, into our own personal inner and social circumstances, into the context of our own availability to check.
We all agree that creating and sharing disinformation is bad. It can play significant part in destabilizing things. From a learning point of view the assumption is that if we understand this basic fact and learn how to identify news and information meant to deceive, then we will turn into these responsible media users that will condemn fake news and never share.
But the reality is that for people fake news can also be fun to believe and share on social media. Or, they can confirm their own biases or feed into their frustrations. Fake news appeal to something. They just don’t win ground because they are well produced.
Technology and, particularly, social media may have boosted their presence in our midst. And it happens because technology is used by people with feelings, interests and personal beliefs. Technology makes it easy for people to share unverified information. But it also helps spreading the concerns about the issue giving it a larger span. Bots intervention has contributed highly to their spread on social media as well.
Inside the debates of the European media educators community – which are less visible in the mainstream public debate – the general opinion is that the recipe-type teaching about fake news does not guarantee ‘protection against fake news’. That is, if one wants to educate to protect against something, which is not the best way to teach media education in the first place. But that’s another issue for debate.
These people – the grassroots media educators and researchers – know what they say because they actually teach news literacy on a daily or weekly basis. They evaluate the learning progress, when they are lucky enough to get the financial and institutional support. They can observe quite easily the inefficiency of a teaching method.
They can tell when quick-teaching solutions to new media challenges – as policy-makers and funding bodies often push for – are not realistic.
The impact that social media have on the way we communicate, entertain and inform is pretty obvious by now. Their presence has transformed the way we select, read and trust the news.
And indeed the context in which we consume news media is key. Recently I co-moderated, together with Evelyne Bevort, media literacy educator in France, a workshop on news media challenges for media educators at the IAME* Summer School in Lucca, Italy. One interesting point to emerge was that we cannot keep thinking about information and news consumption only in terms of media.
I agree entirely. News consumption and their sharing are part of our personal identity building and social practices more than ever. We read news to get informed (the primary function). But we also share that information on social media platforms. We use it in conversations or simply show our Facebook friends that we are up-to-date with what is going on. That we can be outraged by what is going on in the world, therefore empathic, and so on. The emotional aspect is also important.
With the rise of social media, a new media business model has been created. And, it turns out, it is not being very ethical about how it exploits users’ personal data and online experience for profit (see this year Cambridge Analytica scandal).
All these issues (and I have mentioned just a few) are relevant for our teaching about news and information media. The textual critical analysis is important to master. But it is not enough to guarantee its use in real life situations. It is about exercising habits and understand how media work and how we use them. It is a challenge that may not work every time.
New digital media may have presented with some new challenges to the media educators but basic media education concepts remain available, says David Buckingham whenever he gets a chance.
Concepts like language, representation, audience and institutions that we, media educators, have in mind and use them when creating our lessons remain relevant in the digital context. You can read more reflections about this here.
This kind of media education should happen on long term, in different learning situations for different groups of people, starting with the earliest age possible. It needs to question what critical learning is, trying to make the distinction between being critical and being cynical, which is perhaps equally as bad as not being media literate at all.
*IAME – International Association for Media Education is a platform where media educators gather to discuss, exchange, improve their teaching and become a stronger voice for media education. Do join us at education.iame!