Can media literacy help fighting inequality?

Children receiving BRCK-Kio Kit, a fully integrated education platform that turns school rooms into a digital classroom. Photo: Afropicmusing on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

90% of the data of the world was generated in the last two years. The arrival of the Internet of things is expected to rocket this figure, with 30 billion connected devices by next year.

Data and digital technology have changed most of the social, political and economic processes of the countries with advanced economies. Over 4, 33 billion people are active Internet users as of July 2019, more than half of the global population. The idea of the global village is every day closer with the mainstreaming of a technology that connects every place in the world and reduces the time of reaching it.

The promises of the technology gurus predicted a global society bonded by cultural dialogue, transparency and direct interaction among individuals. The presence of advanced technology would suppress the undesirable work to provide more quality of life for all.

Media literacy is the term that involves a new literacy for the XX and XXI century, the literacy that deals with the new “languages” of computers and, in general, with digital skills.

Digital skills are, in any case, a transversal subject of the education systems that prepare individuals for a new labour market, but also for the everyday life, where the digital technology is embedded in administrative operations, banking, purchases.

Without digital skills, citizens, communities and countries would take the risk of staying behind in a world dominated by this quick-evolving digital economy.

The world mapped according to the Internet usage in 2015. Source: The Worldmapper (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The promises of inclusion, then, is conditioned by the mastering of certain competencies that would allow individuals to use these technologies and do it in a way that is profitable to them.

This last point is not negligible: experts have found that the “digital divide” that puts apart those individuals and countries that benefit from the technology and those who do not is easy to close with the provision of access to the Internet. What is harder to overcome is the usages gap, this means, the differences between the benefits that people obtain from the digital resources.

While some individuals use the digital media to invest in activities that improve their position in life (studies, work, administrative and banking operations) others are stuck in the trap of attention of a digital economy that diminishes their potential to use their time and cognitive resources wisely. These low-profile activities include predominant online gaming, communication and entertainment use.

In fact, the experts have discovered that individuals with lower economic resources pass more time consuming digital media than their peers with higher resources and level of instructions.

At this point, it is worth questioning: is digital literacy a gateway to inclusion and inequality reduction?.

The answer is no and yes. No, if media literacy is understood as the mere acquisition of technical skills to swell the client list of the digital monopolies. Yes, if it is an opportunity to learn the critical competencies that allow filtering junk or fake news, avoid malicious contents, surf the web safely, and especially, to find enriching contents, collaborative learning opportunities and experiences that upgrade the capacity of the users.

The digital environment is still quite new. The scandal of Cambridge Analytica demonstrated how vulnerable common users are in front of the powerful digital corporations. Digital-related problems affect mainly to the connected disadvantaged populations, as they are likely to poorly manage their security settings online, and depend on the digital services for entertainment and social relation activities.

Multilateral organisms like UNESCO have understood the immense power of media literacy to provide opportunities for all. The goal of achieving an equitable use of the Web is still secondary in the frame of the main development agendas but is a cross-cutting topic to achieve the horizon of inclusion.

Geisel García Graña
Geisel García Graña
Geisel is Communication & Ecosystem Manager for GlobalCAD and a consultant in communication and sustainable cities. She has a PhD. in Communication Sciences by the Autonomous University of Barcelona. @geiselgg