Democracy cannot function without a well-informed citizenry that is actively involved in civic life, understood as both community and political life. Using digital technologies has made it easier to share public matters, to participate in the political process and to organise action.
However, it has also enabled populist agendas to capitalise on citizens’ emotions in ways that rely on the internet’s potential for misinformation, polarisation and political profiling aimed at manipulating voters (think, for example, of Cambridge Analytica’s illegal harvesting of Facebook data during the Brexit referendum). These are issues, which are exacerbated by how internet corporations use algorithms and track users’ data, that undermine our ability to use digital technologies both safely and with a view to participating in society.
This means that, while policymakers and internet corporations have a responsibility to redesign and better regulate the digital environment, users need to be equipped with the lifelong skills and knowledge necessary for developing and acting as citizens.
In order for this to happen, media literacy and citizenship education are essential in the digital age, but too often these are like two parallel but disconnected tracks. Indeed, in a context where low levels of media literacy and critical thinking are becoming a prominent issue, the lack of media-specific citizenship education enables the attack on democracy, peace and the rule of law.
As stated in the “Council conclusions on media literacy in an ever-changing world (2020/C 193/06)”, alongside the numerous advantages and positive effects of the new media ecosystem, it has also brought increasing amounts of disinformation, manipulation and hate speech and in this new media ecosystem, citizens are overwhelmed with information and may have trouble understanding the news and finding accurate information and reliable news sources, as well as quality content in general.
Moreover, the exposure of citizens to a large amount of both misinformation (false information shared by misinformed or misguided individuals) and disinformation (false information shared with the explicit intention to deliberately mislead its audience), especially in times of major global crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasises the importance of a systematic approach to the development of media literacy and the acquisition of a great deal of new individual and societal knowledge and skills to enable citizens of all ages to access, select, understand and make sophisticated and responsible use of information and of different kinds of media, both professional and user-generated, on all kinds of channels and distribution or communication platforms.
Media literacy should not be limited to learning about tools and technologies, but should also aim to equip citizens with the critical thinking skills required to exercise judgment, analyse complex realities and recognise the difference between opinion and fact. All these capacities allow the citizen to participate in the economic, social and cultural aspects of society as well as to play an active role in the democratic process.
Considering this, there is an evident need to develop new models of lifelong learning in media literacy, and to provide people of all ages with the practical opportunities to learn the skills needed to understand and operate within the highly complex media communication landscape, through programmes adapted to various target groups, which can be age-specific and/or context-specific.
The rising amount of fake news has become a very significant challenge for our democratic societies. We are seeing the effects of the negative impact and we understand that it has no limits and affects all issues concerning the European Union.
One thing is clear:
And this is also what stated in the European Democracy Plan https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_2250 which calls inter alia for improving the EU and member states capacity to counter disinformation.