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Media Literacy

Media literacy is in demand today more than ever

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The BDN Opinion Section operates independently and does not establish newsroom guidelines or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

We’re all very busy right now. We are experiencing health and economic crises. Many of us learn and work from home with little support. And we are only two weeks away from election day.

All of these issues add to another crisis that isn’t getting as much attention: media saturation and exhaustion. We are being inundated with political messages surrounding the election and misinformation surrounding the pandemic, and we are also more reliant than ever on media technologies.

Do we have the critical tools to cope with and understand all of these media that dominate our attention? Media literacy education is more important than ever today.

We’ve all probably spent even more time in front of screens in recent months due to the pandemic. For those students whose learning has shifted online, this means that virtually all of their educational and social needs are conveyed through screens.

This is a great opportunity to shift our conversations around screen time, from the way we use screens, from media safety to media literacy. The rush to shift online learning has exposed not only the persistent digital divide in terms of access, but also deep divisions in terms of educational equity. Without media literacy, these gaps will widen, disproportionately affecting low-income and rural communities in Maine and beyond.

Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act on all forms of media, including news, advertising, video games, digital media, and social media. It’s an extension of traditional literacy that takes into account all the ways we process and produce information. The aim of media literacy training is to enable active citizens to be critical thinkers and responsible media producers.

Unfortunately, we are unable to meet the learning challenges of the 21st century. On average, teenagers in the US spend almost seven and a half hours a day with entertainment media – more time than at school!

Think of all of the advertisements you’ve been exposed to, all of the clickbaits and misinformation, all of the social media drama, all of your attention that is being captured and traced for data. Also think of all the advantages that new media offer us: the skills that they help us develop; the relationships and networks that make them possible; and the many perspectives and voices that reinforce them. Media has so much power to influence us both positively and negatively, but we are not critically involved with media in our classrooms and we do not use media as the powerful learning tools that they can be.

We are also in the midst of a global epidemic of misinformation. The “infodemia” surrounding the coronavirus has exacerbated a problem that we have largely neglected for more than a decade: that we have a wealth of information available that we neither have the time nor the skills to understand.

Young people in particular find it difficult to recognize where information on the Internet comes from or to distinguish credible from falsification. In a recent report asking teenagers to identify the news sources they trusted most on social media and YouTube, the most common names named were PewDiePie, CNN, Trevor Noah, Donald Trump and Beyoncé. All five will likely raise their eyebrows.

We’re drowning in the media and misinformation, we’re in the midst of a tragic health crisis, and elections are due in two weeks’ time. How important is it to you that people not only have effective access to information, but can also critically analyze and evaluate it before they risk their health or cast their vote?

The need for media literacy education is more urgent today than ever. Maine should lead this fight as we have led in so many other fights. Legislative efforts are being made across the country to ensure that media literacy is an integral part of formal education.

Next week (October 26-30) is National Media Literacy Week. Let your school and community leaders know that you believe media literacy is vital to the education and health of our students and our democracy. You can also participate in Media Literacy Week through the free, virtual News Literacy Challenge from Fogler Library and the University of Maine’s Department of Communication Journalism.

Alan Berry is a graduate student at the University of Maine and Maine State Director for Media Literacy Now. This column expresses his views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university. He is a member of the Maine Chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars from across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. The members’ columns appear every two weeks in the BDN.

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