The promises, challenges, and futures of media literacy

  • Awareness
  • 03/05/2018
  • Monica Bulger and Patrick Davison, Data and Society

"Media literacy has become a center of gravity for countering "fake news", and a diverse array of stakeholders – from educators to legislators, philanthropists to technologists – have pushed significant resources toward media literacy programs. Media literacy, however, cannot be treated as a panacea." On this note starts "The Promises, Challenges, and Futures of Media Literacy", a paper written by Monica Bulger and Patrick Davison and published in February 2018 with Data and Society.

As explained in the executive summary, this paper provides a foundation for evaluating media literacy efforts and contextualising them relative to the current media landscape. Media literacy is traditionally conceived as a process or set of skills based on critical thinking. It has a long history of development according to different values, swinging between protection and participation. Contemporary media literacy tends to be organised around five main themes: youth participation, teacher training and curricular resources, parental support, policy initiatives, and evidence base construction. Programmes like these have demonstrated positive outcomes, particularly in the case of rapid responses to breaking news events, connecting critical thinking with behaviour change, and evaluating partisan content.

However, the paper emphasises that media literacy programmes also have their challenges:

"In general, there is a lack of comprehensive evaluation data of media literacy efforts. Some research shows that media literacy efforts can have little-to-no impact for certain materials, or even produce harmful conditions of overconfidence. The longitudinal nature of both assessing and updating media literacy programs makes this a perennial struggle".

Against this background, the authors listed a set of recommendations for media literacy to be effective:

  • Develop a coherent understanding of the media environment. With new technologies and new rhetorical techniques, existing programmes should be updated.
  • Improve cross-disciplinary collaboration. Media literacy is often seen as a narrow, pedagogical field. But work from other disciplines – social psychology, political science, sociology – is producing new research and findings that could greatly benefit media literacy.
  • Leverage the current media crisis to consolidate stakeholders. The new attention on "fake news" could allow for new cross-disciplinary collaboration and therefore greater coherence within the field.
  • Prioritise the creation of a national media literacy evidence base. A centralised and stable base of evaluation data would make more accurate assessment possible. Though there are many potential political challenges to such an evidence base.
  • Develop curricula for addressing action in addition to interpretation. With the increased use of social media, literacy efforts need to be able to address user behaviour in addition to interpretation.

This article is an abstract from the executive summary of the full report and is reproduced here with permission. The views and opinions expressed in this article are therefore those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal, European Schoolnet (EUN), the European Commission (EC) or any related organisations or parties.

Patrick Davison – co-author of this publication is editor at Data and Society and other publications are listed here. Monica Bulger – co-author of this publication, has also authored and co-authored other related Data and Society publications about large-scale educational technology initiatives, advertising in schools, and personalised learning. She was also consulted in the BIK Policy Map research developments.

Data & Society is a research institute in New York City that is focused on the social and cultural issues arising from data-centric and automated technologies.

If you would like to contribute a guest blog post to the BIK portal, find out more at

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