What is Digital Literacy
Okay, so when i first heard the term “Digital Literacy” i thought it meant how educated you are about the digital world (AKA Facebook and stuff) and how skilled you are in coding and/or in digital technology use. I had never heard the term before; from what it sounds like, digital literacy is probably how aware you are of cyber security, how to secure your privacy on social websites, whether its social media, blogs, or even online newspapers, or maybe how much knowledge you have of the digital world (i only know that its endless, limitless, and has underground valleys that you cannot reach – the deep web) Honestly, i don’t even know the differences between the deep web and the dark web. i mean.. do you?
Really, What is Digital Literacy?
In an article published by International Literacy Association, written by Maha Bali, digital literacy is completely different from digital skills. Skills is what app/website to use and how to use it. Literacy is how to use it properly, to serve which purposes, and what the consequences/benefits of using it are. (completely different from what i thought!) I mean, we’ve always needed passwords for various online accounts, and even our devices, but it doesn’t seem like all people are fully aware of the importance of passwords, other than their own friends or family taking little peaks at their private messages. Being digitally literate allows you to understand aspects behind every decision you make and every action you take online. I mean, i had the skill of knowing how to use Facebook. But I never knew what i should be posting and what I SHOULD NOT be posting. For example, as a female here in Egypt, when Facebook was first introduced around 2006-2007, all that i was taught was not to post a picture of myself so that other guys wouldn’t place my face on a photo of a naked woman’s body. That’s all i was really taught! And that wasn’t the case with only me, everyone I knew who used Facebook were taught the exact same thing.
We all have digital skills don’t we? But do we all know when to use them and how to use them properly? I’m afraid we all THINK we do, but based on my experience, we don’t. When i went to college, i started attending sessions of how to build up your CV and how to appear well to employers. Honestly, I never thought they’d bring up Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the process. I was taught that employers would judge me for my photos, my captions, and even my likes! I have to choose wisely what opinions to share, jokes to tell, and things to keep to myself. Seems like your past, AND your present, will hunt you down your career path! It is not just that, some of the things I might share can be offensive to others. It is important to understand the consequences of our virtual actions.
Digital literacy is not just about me, it’s about all my neighbors online. Quoting Maha Bali in the article, “Digital literacy would focus on helping students choose appropriate images, recognize copyright licensing, and cite or get permissions.” Just like i wouldn’t take my neighbor’s couch and place it in my own living room without a permission, i should not be using other people’s work as mine, without at least recognizing their efforts, citing their work or getting their approval.
What I’m saying is, this is only a brief intro about what digital literacy is and the importance of acquiring it; learning about it is very important as we go along with our lives as it addresses everyone’s online privacy, safety, and comfort.
I listened to a podcast, by The Mind Online that addresses many of the concepts of digital literacy. One of them was the importance of knowing the sources of information that we are fed as its very easy to fake or replicate information like videos or articles online that may not be true or legit. We all watch viral videos and posts on social media and we take them for a fact. We share/retweet many of them but we never mind evaluating or checking the facts behind those viral posts. We forget to remind ourselves that going viral with a post can negatively affect someone or physically get them hurt. For example the photo below went EXTREMELY viral on social media in Egypt. People have created what seems to be funny and relatable memes on this photo of that man but they never took it into consideration that he gave no one the approval to use his face in anything online. For a fact, he didn’t even know someone was taking a picture! the actual story behind that photo, as i’ve read somewhere and I, unfortunately, cannot completely verify, he was a poor guy at the doctor’s asking about his diagnosis. I’ve read other stories, but all that lead to the same conclusion: no one got the permission or had the right to sarcastically go viral with his face on memes. We never realize how much damage we’re causing as we drown in the sea of the virtual hassles. Imagine you were his parent, sibling, friend, or partner!
The Empathy Trap: Judgement and Hate
The guest speaker in the podcast, Mathew Johnson, an expert in digital literacy, spoke about hate speech. I must suppose we are all familiar with hate speech, if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, we must have seen it somewhere. I can reflect on his words with a real life example, here in our Egyptian society, that will sum up all what he said. Shady Srour, a social media influencer and a comedian who used to make funny videos that went viral very quickly. None of his videos were offensive to any one and he was so popular and so loved. The moment he moved to the States he started getting hate speech against his beliefs and his actions that contrasted those of most Egyptians. His followers got stuck in what the guest speaker, Mathew Johnson, calls the empathy trap, where they can’t see the body language or hear the tone of the posts he made that they lost utter connection with emotions towards them. Eventually, Shady couldn’t take their hate speech anymore and attempted to commit suicide. Later on, when he was rescued, he posted a video, crying and telling people the story behind his suicicde attempt and how much their hate speech, that they think is totally okay, has caused him mental, emotional and physical pain. Here’s a link to the video if you’d like to watch, or read the comments. Whether i approve of their actions or not, I in no way see it humane to treat someone like that just because you’re hiding behind a phone or you’re not in the same room with them. And this is an issue that I’ve noticed to be common lately. People treat celebrities and influencers as if they are material things behind a phone screen. They often forget they’re human too!
“We are no longer just consumers of information, we are broadcasters as well. And we have the power to stop disinformation.” – Mathew Johnson.
A Pathway to Digital Literacy
Speaking of reliable sources, i found an intriguing article on a website by Harvard Graduate School of Education called Usable Knowledge. The article “Digital Literacies for Digital Natives”, by Jessica Lander includes perspectives and opinions about digital literacy. The author illustrates 4 ways to effectively teach digital literacy.
- Understand the motives of articles and videos. What do they want you to believe? What are they trying to make you think of? What do they want you to see?
- Is there bias, or is the information presented a fact? Are all sides of the argument presented? Compare news and articles to find out!
- Check your sources. Always.
- What you read is targeted at YOU. Complex algorithms design what you see online. Be ware of what the software makes you believe is true.
In my opinion, the above instructions are precautions that must be taken when serving the web, especially when you’re searching up answers for an argument, solutions for an issue, or news. Fake news and information drive nations to create misbeliefs, stereotypes and facilitate the rise of several other social issues. Nowadays, how can we tell what is real and what is not?! Give your advice in the comments section below.