Youth as the agents of change for media literacy during the era of algorithms

Monday 12 November 2018
Youth as the agents of change for media literacy during the era of algorithms

On October 26, the Youth Forum “Media Literacy in the Era of Algorithms: Youth Voices” concluded at the Academic Center for Natural Sciences of University of Latvia by highlighting the role of young people as agents of change through improving the media and information literacy skills of each and every member of civil society. The event was held as part of the UNESCO-initiated Global Media and Information Literacy Week, and brought together around 250 participants from more than 20 countries.

Improvement of media literacy skills – everyone’s individual and shared responsibility

“Youth is the generation that has to become not only the beneficiaries of media and information literacy, but also the drivers of this field – being the ones who gain the knowledge and educate others. From UNESCO’s point of view, without the involvement and commitment of youth to fully understand and disseminate the concept of media literacy, society as a whole will not be able to benefit from the digital era,” said Moez Chakchouk, the Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information of UNESCO, the Rector of the University of Latvia – Indriķis Muižnieks followed by reminding the audience that each and every person has to learn how to deal with the vast flow of the information coming through media daily, and stressed that it is also the responsibility of researchers and others who are involved in the academic environment to make the knowledge of the concept of media literacy more available to everyone and enhance these skills in society as a whole. In turn, Guna Spurava, the Head of the UNESCO Chair on Media and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Latvia, concluded the opening speeches by saying that we all have to realise that media literacy and Artificial Intelligence are not just concepts anymore: they are our today, the reality we face every day.

Simultaneous use of multiple screens – an everyday thing in today’s world

In the first session of the Forum – Youth Agency & New Media Landscape – three young media and communication experts interviewed experienced professors whose speciality is related to media and information literacy. During the first dialogue (New Screen Ecology & Youth), social media expert-researcher Līva Brice from the University of Latvia and professor Manisha Pathak-Shelat from Mudra Institute of Communications in Ahmedabad, India, admitted that the term “new screen ecology” conceals the keyword diversity. Both experts concluded that simultaneous use of multiple screens today has become a routine phenomenon and multi-tasking is a necessity of the modern age.

Coding skills are necessary, however it is not the only solution

During the second dialogue, digital media expert Andris Reinholds from “MediaCom Latvia” interviewed professor Sirkku Kotilainen from University of Tampere in Finland and came to the conclusion that media literacy as a competency has to be something way beyond  the skill of reading news critically. In the meantime, when asked if programming as an obligatory school subject in schools could solve the most essential issues regarding media literacy, the answer from the Forum audience was an unequivocal “No.” Coding skills are important, but not the only solution for educating children on usage of digital media. It requires a deeper understanding – based on critical thinking – on how the digital environment and algorithms work. Experts emphasized that media and information literacy from today’s viewpoint is not a particular skill, but rather an umbrella concept that is in an endless development and state of change – just like algorithms in the digital age.

The reliability of the news must be judged

During the third interview Rachel Schnalzer from “Buzzfeed” interviewed professor Henry Jenkins from University of Southern California, USA,  who indicated that the dissemination speed rate of misinformation is much faster than any person’s ability to test the truthfulness of these messages. For this reason, professor Jenkins recommends young people to use a “sceptic test” – i.e. see if the message at hand feels right or seems to come from an authoritative source. As a conclusion, the participants of this dialogue emphasized that the youth will be the one who will introduce social changes to our society, no matter what kind of communication channel is used.  

The responsibility should be shared between content creators and platform holders

Session number two – “Youth Voices in the Era of Algorithms” – focused on today’s media “shark” YouTube. In this session, which  was moderated by Zoe Glatt, a media & communications researcher at London School of Economics and Political Science,  participants were “Buzzfeed” representative Rachel Schnalzer from the USA together with world-renowned YouTube bloggers from the UK: Khan Taha Rauf (KhanStopMe on YouTube); and Mcmillan Clenaghan (Jazza John on YouTube); and lifestyle YouTube producer from Latvia Beāta Jonīte. The panel discussed youth’s media literacy regarding YouTube and the distribution of responsibilities which comes  with being a content creator.

The panelists emphasized that the burden of responsibility for ethical content being published on YouTube should be taken not only by the content creators, but also platform holders and viewers / listeners of this content. Platform administrators and their users are particularly responsible for assessing what is offensive or unethical content, since the content makers often care more about being entertaining and appealing to their viewers than creating ethical content.

YouTube bloggers also mentioned that when it comes to ads, YouTube content creators should certainly remember about such details as adding hashtag #ad to videos, as it is not safe to assume that all the viewers will be able to detect at which point during the video, a product is being advertised. Experts from the UK added that promotional content in YouTube has a different character from any other media platform, since the viewers often have an emotional connection with the blogger. For this reason, content creators have a major responsibility in advertising products, because in these cases viewers are particularly trusting in regards to the people whose video content they follow regularly.

Strength lays in the ability for all parties involved to cooperate

During the third and fourth sessions of the Forum, the audience had an opportunity to hear success stories from all over the world, including Finland, Nigeria, Ukraine, India, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Spain, China, Turkey, the UK and USA. These young people presented various initiatives related to media literacy and all the ways of how they help the children, youth and adults of today to cope with the challenges presented by the digital era in their corresponding countries. The variety of these stories was united by the common denominator of being young and powerful leaders, who can note the problems and potential solutions. The main ingredient for success is the ability for all the involved parties to cooperate, including educational institutions, governments and municipalities, non-governmental organizations, parents of children and many others.

No one should lose their vigilance and keep gaining knowledge  

During the closing session of the Forum, Guy Berger, the Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, reminded the audience that in today’s fast-growing digital world anyone can consider him/herself as media and information literate, but tomorrow the situation could already be completely different. For this reason, it is extremely important not to lose vigilance, to keep learning and to gain new knowledge on the impact of digital era, regardless of ones’ age and experiences.

More thematic findings from the Global Media and Information Literacy week events, including the Youth Forum, can be found on Twitter underneath the hashtag #GlobalMILweek. On the day of the Youth Forum, 26 of October, it become the top trending topic on Twitter, gaining a widespread resonance in the international public sphere.

On Global Media and Information Literacy Week

Global Media and Information Literacy Week is organised since 2012 by UNESCO and UNAOC in partnership with the MILID University Network, the Global Alliance for Partnership on MIL (GAPMIL), the International Federation of Library Associations and many other partners. Youth Forum, which on 26th of October was organised by UNESCO and University of Latvia in partnership with Latvian National Commission for UNESCO and University of Tampere (Finland) and with the support of Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia, the British Council in Latvia, Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Latvia. It was the follow-up event of the Feature Conference “Media and Information Literate Cities: Voices, Powers, and Change Makers” which took place from 24 to 25 of October in Kaunas, Lithuania. UNESCO’s Chair on Media and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Latvia participated in the co-organization of the Feature Conference.

For more information on the Global Media and Information Literacy Week 2018, visit https://en.unesco.org/globalmilweek2018.

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