Media literacy, a key component of 21st century education

In each edition of the BIK bulletin, we look at a topical issue – in the March 2019 edition, we focus on media literacy. According to, media literacy provides a framework to access, analyse, evaluate and create messages in a variety of forms – from print, to video, to the internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for the citizens of a democracy.

Date 2019-03-29 Author BIK Team

If media literacy has become an essential skill in the 21st century, it is because the digital age has made it possible for anyone to easily create media. Disinformation entails a variety of risks, including regarding children and young people's online safety. The recent case of the so-called "Momo challenge", which has spread like wildfire across the internet, is a particularly relevant example. In February 2019, a Twitter user posted an alarmist warning against "a thing called ‘Momo' that's instructing kids to kill themselves". The post was retweeted more than 22,000 times and news outlets amplified the panic, when in fact the Momo challenge is simply a viral hoax that has been around for quite some time.

How do we tackle widespread disinformation in the media and online? To respond to this challenge, many national authorities have opted for anti-fake news laws. Yet, according to many observers, regulation is not the solution. In an article called "Fake news. It's complicated.", First Draft explains that governments cannot determine themselves what is "fake news", and what is not. There are nuances, and there should be a distinction in particular between "misinformation" (false information spread with no malicious intent) and "disinformation" (false information spread with the purpose of fooling people and manipulating the public opinion). Moreover, the term "fake news" is politicised: many political leaders use it, not to denounce erroneous information, but to publicly weaken their opponents. Similarly, many media outlets have set up fact-checking desks in recent years. While the intention is noble, the efficiency of this system remains limited. While fact-checking may shed light on one specific issue, it does not tackle the problem of disinformation in depth.

Therefore, the only sustainable answer for a future free of disinformation is to empower media consumers through media literacy and media education. As Amandine Kervella, researcher in information and communication sciences at the University of Lille, France, told Usbek & Rica, "letting students create their own media has enormous potential in many regards. When they produce information, they practice fact-checking and understand the importance of the material constraints (which are generally overlooked) of journalism work. They see the media in a new light, and they regain a certain power".

According to the European Youth Portal, media literacy helps in:

  • Encouraging critical thinking.
  • Understanding how media content affects culture and society.
  • Identifying marketing and communication strategies.
  • Recognising the purpose of the creator of the media content.
  • Recognising persuasion techniques.
  • Recognising poverty, misinformation, manipulation and loyalty.
  • Creating and sharing your own media content.
  • Participating in the public sphere as an active citizen.

In response to these challenges, and to underline the societal importance of media literacy, the European Commission initiated, in 2019, the first European Media Literacy Week, an event to promote media literacy initiatives and projects across the EU. From Monday, 18 March to Friday, 22 March 2019, a variety of media literacy-related events took place in Brussels and across the EU - click on the image below to watch the campaign video spot.

Better Internet for Kids (BIK) and the Insafe network of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs) supported the campaign and used it as an opportunity to showcase the work of the SICs in promoting media literacy to children and young people through educational resources and awareness videos. Some examples include:

In particular, the Irish SIC's newest education programme, HTML Heroes: An introduction to the internet, received a European Media Literacy Award for most educative media literacy project at the European Media Literacy Conference in Brussels.

These, and many other examples, can be found in the ever-growing BIK repository of resources.

Additionally, Monday, 25 March to Sunday, 31 March 2019, marks the pan-European ALL DIGITAL Week. It is an annual digital empowerment campaign run at digital competence centres, libraries, schools, community centres and non-profits across Europe, bringing together 100,000 Europeans every year. One of the ALL DIGITAL Week's key objectives is to promote media literacy, since a recent study has demonstrated that 29 per cent of the EU population is not confident they can identify disinformation online.

Our March 2019 BIK bulletin has seen a particular focus on media literacy, but this needs to be an ongoing exercise all year long in order to inform and empower all of Europe's citizens in the increasing digital economy and society.

For more information, see the full March 2019 edition of the BIK bulletin. Alternatively, read past editions of the BIK bulletin for coverage of a range of topical issues, and visit the BIK portal regularly for the latest news and resources.

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