Last week I mentioned that I would write a post discussing the gaps I see in current descriptions of digital literacy, particularly as it’s described in the popular press, and why a more holistic or even interdisciplinary understanding of digital literacy is needed. Well I’m back this week to continue that discussion. We must move beyond the idea that digital literacy is about teaching people how to create a website or learn to code. We need to recognize that a skills based approach to digital literacy will only serve to exacerbate certain social and democratic challenges inherent in digital communication, and we must instead consider digital literacy as something that stretches far beyond equipping students for jobs that may or may not exist in the ever-fickle digital economy. The best example, I think ,of why this is the case is the current problem of “fake news”.
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about social media as a source of news, and how we are currently experiencing parallels with yellow journalism. I think that if we can identify similarities with our current media environment, and the rise and management of yellow journalism during the Hearst/Pulitzer years, we may be in a better position to brainstorm meaningful solutions to the fake news challenges that we are seeing today. And there are indeed many parallels to be drawn, so I’ll begin with a few important ones, as I see them:
This blog post stems from a podcast that I’m putting together for the Multimedia Local News Conference Publication. This publication is being put together by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre following a very successful international conference on local news in a digital age, and I presented some research at the conference relating to how local news content shared on Twitter can be measured. I am also happy to serve on the conference and publication organizing committee.
The availability of relevant political information is central to a functioning public sphere. In some larger Canadian communities, such as Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver, which are media centers for their respective provinces, the availability of locally relevant news that aids citizens in making meaningful voting decisions is not an issue. News in these communities is readily available. However, in other communities, this is simply not the case. local news outlets in smaller communities across Canada and around the world are being closed down, and studies have shown that when a community loses a source of local news, civic engagement declines.
Last week, I had the great pleasure of presenting my work at the International Conference on Social Media and Society (#SMSociety2017), hosted by the esteemed team at the Social Media Lab at Ryerson University. While in attendance, I listened to a fantastic keynote by Lee Rainie, the director of Internet and Policy Research at the Pew Research Center. His keynote, titled “The Reckoning for Social Media” focused on the research work conducted by the Pew Internet and Technology research center, about how social media have changed the relationship of people to each other and to public institutions. Some of his findings were disheartening such as, for example, recent research that shows that people polled in the US are experiencing declining trust in academic institutions, or that people are becoming more polarized in their political views. Other findings were more hopeful, such as the fact that there is substantial reciprocity across social media platforms.