The Center for Media Literacy defines media literacy as, “the 21st-century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in various forms, from print to video to the internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society and an essential skill of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.” 

As a digital marketing agency, and avid social media users, we discuss media every day. But, how do we start to discuss the importance of understanding media? 

The way we think of media literacy, the understanding and analyzing social media and online information, actually dates back to 1989. Elizabeth Thoman, an expert in communications and an advocate for media literacy, founded the Center for Media Literacy in 1989. She is a leader in the media literacy movement and has spent 30 years defining and advocating media literacy education in schools and community programs. 

The center’s mission is to, “establish and encourage new ways of thinking about television and media and to develop new teaching resources for exploring the impact -pro and con- of media and technology in our daily lives,” (Center for Media Literacy [CML], n.d.). 

It’s been three decades since the Center for Media Literacy opened, and we’re still thinking of new ways to think about digital media. In order to begin to understand the scope and impact of media literacy, we need to think about the number of people who use social media. 

The Pew Research Center conducts studies regularly to understand the patterns and statistics behind social media use. According to Pew Research Center, “72% of Americans say they ever use social media sites.” They found that 84% of adults ages 18-29, 81% of adults for ages 30-49, 73% of adults ages 50-64, and 45% of adults ages 60 and over all use social media.

According to a study published in Adult Education Quarterly, media literacy contributes to democracy, and active participation in citizenship; choices, competitiveness, and economic knowledge; and continued learning, cultural awareness, and personal fulfillment, (Rasi et al., 2020). 

The importance of media literacy weighs heavily on the millennial and Gen Z population as they are the future of digital media. Not enough research has been done, however, to assess the level of media literacy in older adults. It’s not surprising that the social media and internet usage of older adults are lower. Existing research, however, as shown that the older demographics of social media users lack the ability to understand, analyze, and evaluate media content (Rasi et al., 2020). Research like this only highlights the importance of promoting media literacy to all ages because digital media should be accessible and understandable to all who want to utilize and create. 

Society has proven that there is an interest in learning how to use technology, stay connected, to access information, and perform everyday tasks such as shopping, traveling, and banking. Inclusivity is essential, but various platforms are creating a digital divide between generations. Martinez-Acalá et al. reported that “According to Internet World Stats (2017), from a total of 3.6 billion people worldwide, 48.3% of the population is digitally excluded,” (Martinez-Acalá et al.,2018). This phenomenon known as the “digital divide” refers to individuals within a certain demographic with disadvantages to access and using the internet in comparison with other groups. 

The older demographic is not the only one suffering from the digital divide, children in grade school who do not have the same economic advantages as others are also isolated. When a student has digital literacy skills, they can move beyond a standard process of understanding technology and apply their digital resources and skills to their own work in a creative way. Digital literacy builds upon the traditional concept of literacy and supports students in using critical thinking skills (Power School, 2021).

Digital media literacy must be incorporated into younger children’s lives. BlueTickSocial’s Director of Marketing, Lane Tower, shares why she finds media literacy to be so important, no matter one’s age.

 

“Everything is becoming digital, news, entertainment, shopping, even banking. If someone pursues media literacy, they allow themselves to remain informed and connected to the ever-changing world and will always be teaching themselves something new or learning it along the way.”

By bridging this gap, adults will be able to better assist the younger generation in understanding and increasing their media literacy. Digital media is constantly changing and the evolution in information communications technology spotlights the need for individuals to pursue higher levels of digital literacy in their everyday lives in order to remain included. 

So, how do we try to solve, or at least fill in, the gaps of the digital divide?  Organizations like the “Nabanita De Foundation” is working to make a difference through a grassroots training of digital skills and opportunities with their free courses, forums, podcasts, communities, cohorts, and upcoming book, (Nabanita Foundation and Forbes, 2022). 

Another organization leading the movement is “Media Literacy Now,” a movement to create a public education program that guarantees all students learn the 21st-century literacy skills they need for health, well-being, economic participation, and citizenship. Due to their work, there has been a significant impact on passing legislation for media literacy as Media Literacy Now has helped propose 30 separate pieces of legislation, backed by 140 sponsors and cosponsors–  resulting in the passage of 18 bills in nine states.

Until nationwide legislation has been passed, individuals can advocate for media literacy in the meantime. Here are some ways to increase your, your child’s, or your parent’s media literacy at home! 

  1. Teach them to evaluate media 
  2. Show them where to find digital resources and databases 
  3. Compare/contrast various media sources 
  4. Discuss how the media edits and altars 
  5. Have them create media 
  6. Try new things using technology (e.g., downloading applications)
  7. Take an online course 
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
  9. Increase your online presence (e.g., try making social media accounts) 

Sources:

How to Increase Your Digital Literacy

17 Ways to Enhance Your Digital Skills at Home and in the Workplace

The Classroom Guide to Digital Literacy in K-12 Education

6 Ways to Integrate Media Literacy in the Classroom

How to Teach Kids Media Literacy

Taking the First Steps Towards Digital Literacy in 2022

Digital Inclusion in Older Adults: A Comparison Between Face-to-Face and Blended Digital Literacy Workshop

Promoting Media Literacy Among Older People: A Systematic Review

Media Literacy: A Definition and More

Social Media Use in 2021

Tribute to Elizabeth Thoman, Founder, Center For Media Literacy, In Memoriam

Elizabeth Thoman CHM, Founder

Putting Media Literacy on the Public Policy Agenda