Google’s Global Media Literacy Summit

Google HQ at King’s Cross

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to attend Google’s Global Media Literacy Summit for 2019, in the shiny new surroundings the of Google’s London headquarters at King’s Cross.

Introducing the day, Ramya Raghavan, head of civics and news outreach at Google, made a point that I often try to emphasise: that our problems have changed from finding useful information on some subject to having to cope with the (literally) overwhelming amount easily found on most topics.

A wide range of short presentations and panels showed how seriously the promotion of media literacy is being taken, as a counter to misinformation (false information), disinformation (deliberately false information), and malinformation (true information, but communicated for a malicious purpose). It is becoming embedded in many contexts from content creation in legacy media, through promotion of the literacies of information and media in all levels of education, to encouragement of critical awareness of social media. There was a particular emphasis on reaching marginal groups, and an awareness that there cannot be any kind of ‘one size fits all’ approach. One interesting approach in the UK is the skills and knowledge framework for critical thinking and news literacy in schools, developed by the Economist Foundation.

Thankfully, the emphasis of the day was away from creation of further models of various forms of literacy, though there was good proportion of conceptual and research-based material.

For me, from the variety of interesting things on offer, there were two highlights.

Chairing a panel of shaping the future of media literacy, Julie Posetti from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, presented their UNESCO-sponsored model curriculum for media literacy. She pointed out that the use of the popular term ‘fake news’ has been very problematic, and unhelpful in developing media literacy.

From the Stanford History Education Group, Joel Breakstone and Sam Wineberg, presented their research on the right and wrong kinds of media literacy. They focused on the limitations of the popular checklist approach for evaluating information and resources, suggesting that it is an analogue approach to digital information, a hangover from the days when it was difficult to find resources, and so it was reasonable to examine each one in detail and in isolation. In a digital era, we must look at other sources to see context of the one we are considering. They illustrated this by a comparison of source evaluations by ‘smart people’ – students at Stanford University – with professional fact checkers. The students relied on the checklist approach for individual resources which they had been taught: examining ‘about’ files to see provenance, preferring .org to .com sites, giving credence to sites mentioning ‘research’, and so on. It was easy to give examples of how this can be hopelessly misleading. The fact checkers, by contrast, following a principle of ‘in order to understand a website, leave it’, almost immediately left the resource, to assess what was being said about it by other web sources. A summary of the research can be found here.

Another point made by the Stanford researchers was that it is time to do away with the myth of ‘digital natives’ and ‘netizens’. We should stop confusing fluency in use of devices with sophistication in thinking critically and in evaluating information.

All in all, a thought-provoking day, and a reminder that media literacy should be much more central to the concerns of LIS. Videos of the presentations are available on YouTube.

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