What is your level of media literacy?

If you are like me you probably spend a lot of your time consuming and creating digital content. Almost every hour (seven days a week!) I check Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see what is relevant to my organisation—what it being posted, liked or retweeted. I am also constantly looking at newsfeeds from a range of other platforms to keep up with what is happening in the world. I guess as a librarian I am consuming digital content with some degree of literacy. Therefore, I am aware of the need to consider who has created the content, to look for differing views and to consider possible bias.

I was, therefore, very interested when I received an invitation to attend the Australian Media Literacy Symposium hosted by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Digital Media Research Centre in 2021. The symposium was delivered as a synchronous event with others in Sydney and Canberra and was scheduled to align with the launch of Adult media literacy in Australia: attitudes, experiences and needs. The report is based on research undertaken jointly by Western Sydney University, QUT and the University of Canberra. The researchers surveyed a sample of 3 510 adult Australians to understand the different types of media they use, the value they place on different media activities, their confidence in their own media abilities and their access to media literacy support. My interests certainly fitted in with that profile. The diagram below also demonstrates that my media consumption is consistent with that of many other Australian adults. How does yours compare?

Being the first comprehensive analysis of how Australian access and engage with media literacy, this is an important document for the library and information sector. Its key findings are:

  1. Most Australian have a low level of confidence in their own media abilities.
  2. Some Australians are at greater risk of having low media literacy.
  3. Most Australians have had access to very few sources of media literacy support in their lifetime.
  4. Australians believe media literacy is important.
  5. Adults want children to receive media literacy education at school.
  6. People who use multiple social media platforms are more likely to be critical and competent media users.
  7. Entertainment media offer more than escapism or passive consumption.
  8. Australians want media companies to take responsibility for addressing problems associated with media use.

I am particularly interested in the second finding—because those groups that have higher risk are also the groups that are regularly reported in the Australian Digital Inclusion Index as having the lowest digital inclusion. These groups are Australian adults living in regional areas, less educated, older, living with disabilities, Indigenous and with lower incomes. Australian libraries are already delivering a range of programs to address digital inclusion, e.g., Tech Savvy Seniors and Deadly Digital Communities but this new report highlights that libraries also need to consider programs to address media literacy. We need to be delivering programs that specifically target those groups that have lower levels of media literacy.

Within Australia, a number of peak groups are already working together as the Australian Media Literacy Alliance (AMLA), including the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and National and State Libraries Australia (NSLA), to advocate for media literacy. They have defined media literacy as “the ability to critically engage with media in all aspects of life. It is a form of lifelong literacy that is essential for full participation in society”. AMLA has also developed a media literacy framework that articulates the outcomes of a media literate citizen.

But, back to the symposium. The keynote speaker was Associate Professor Paul Mihailidis from Emerson College in Boston whose most recent publication is Civic media literacies. He explored the themes of values, spectacle and trust.

People care more about information that confirms their values rather than what is accurate.”—Paul Mihailidis

He proposed that the values of social platforms no longer align to the values of society, and that trust in institutions is declining. He also highlighted the decline of media diversity—many communities in the United States now have no or only one source of local news. This is like Australia, where many regional newspapers ceased being published in 2020. And, on a topical note, we were warned that we need to be wary of the social media discourse on the COVID-19 vaccine and how platforms prioritise our access to information. The topic of misinformation and COVID-19 was discussed by former CNN journalist Dr Anne Kruger when she outlined the work of First Draft and its Vaccine insights hub.

I encourage you to explore the Adult media literacy in Australia report and the AMLA media literacy framework. Although the research is based on Australian research the findings are relevant to other contexts. Personally, I am increasingly seeking out alternative media to ensure that I am modelling being a media-literate citizen. Libraries have a strong record of providing literacy programs, e.g., in digital literacy, health literacy and financial literacy.  We now need to actively promote media literacy so that we can enable active civic participation.

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