According to UNESCO’s most used definition, MIL is defined as “a set of competencies that empowers citizens to access, retrieve, understand, evaluate and use, to create as well as share information and media content in all formats, using various tools, in a critical, ethical and effective way, in order to participate and engage in personal, professional and societal activities”
Please see this short video and short article on the Participation Resource Pool for a good overview.
MIL skills are essential life skills for any person and one of the basic parts of growing and developing a personality. It is impossible to be an active and aware citizen without such skills. One concrete example for youth work is youth information and counselling services, which touch base with many MIL topics. When it comes to encouraging youth participation, young people need to be able to find and recognise quality information, and act as critical thinkers when evaluating content in this time of “infodemic”. Skills to create content are essential in making young people’s voices heard and for participating in all aspects of society.
ERYICA (European Youth Information and Counselling Agency) has a network of young ambassadors where young people work with other young people in sharing youth information. Young people can also work together with journalists or learn to create quality content and more. European Youth Press, for example, connects and educates young journalists.
MIL resource mapping by SALTO PI (please insert the link) also includes some insights on trends and challenges in the field of MIL.
The MILEN Network publishes insights and articles on various emerging MIL topics that can be found here.
One of the biggest future challenges is the automated creation of disinformation; you can read more about it here.
UNESCO has developed some guidelines for MIL teaching curriculum in schools, including core competencies for teachers.
This would similarly apply to youth workers. All the skills of MIL – to find information, analyse and critically evaluate the content, to create content and to act based on information – are all equally important. This means youth workers should themselves be up to date, know the tools and case studies, and have the skills to discuss and co-create with young people. To this end, it is not essential that youth workers know every detail; instead, they should have a solid overview and good facilitation skills and knowledge on how to engage experts to cooperate with, if necessary.
MIL can be taught formally and informally. There are numerous ways of conducting MIL education. Some inspiration and project examples can be found on DW Akademie website.
ERYICA’s (European Youth Information and Counselling Agency) annual good practice booklet includes MIL features (look for SHEryica booklets).
SALTO PI awards had a category for MIL projects and you can find more about the nominees and project examples. DW Akdemie has also shared some methods of non-formal education in teaching MIL.
Many useful tools for MIL education, including lesson plans, games, etc. can be found here on the Participation Resource Pool!
For formal education, see UNESCO’s Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Teachers.
In regard to non-formal education, DW Akademie has a practical guidebook available. You might also take interest in UNESCO’s policy guidelines on MIL.
There are different individual strategies. First and foremost, it is important that we act because hate speech stays online. If this happens on a channel that is public, your national law might also make you responsible for moderating such content. There are various tools, videos and resources on how to counteract or prevent hate speech here on the No Hate Speech campaign page (please check also your national campaign website, it might include even more materials).
MIL has received even more attention, since it has become very evident that media and information literacy are life-saving skills. In the light of the pandemic, many are confronted with the so-called “disinfodemic”, where only media and information literate people are able to discern between myths and facts. Hence, the whole field receives even more attention, since ensuring quality information in critical situations is second only to healthcare. Here you can find some thoughts on that.
This situation only proves how important the work of MIL educators is, and we should continue it in the changing dynamic by adapting our ways of working, e.g. by introducing digital youth work practices. A massive open online course on digital youth work is now taking place and you can enroll in it to learn more here.
It would help to identify a bit more concretely the MIL topic that you are interested in or on what exact question you would like some research. For a start, I could recommend beginning with MIL Resource mapping by SALTO PI, and the Participation Resource Pool itself, which includes many interesting references you could start your research on. Also, check out some studies here on the Participation Resource Pool.
This is a question that many educators ask themselves. Here you will find five tips from DW Akademie for teaching MIL that will hopefully give you some ideas.
There are also some lesson plans available here on the Participation Resource Pool. See more here. You might also be interested in some interactive learning tools.
MIL is a broad field of topics and can appear too complex at the beginning. In a recent MIL resources mapping, SALTO PI identified 18 topics that are part of MIL, as UNESCO’s Composite concept of MIL describes.
The Center for Media Literacy, even before the rise of social media, developed five core questions of media literacy, which are quite universal and remain quite relevant in starting to become more aware of the media that surrounds us (not only digitally). Here you can find more on those five concepts.
You might also want to use MIL Clicks developed by UNESCO. MIL CLICKS is a way for people to acquire MIL competencies in their normal day-to-day use of the internet and social media and to engage in peer education in an atmosphere of browsing, playing, connecting, sharing and socialising.
Networking is key for development. Search for an association or at least a group (e.g. on Facebook) of local or national youth workers in your area. Internationally, there is a network of MIL experts that you can follow. Every year there is a UNESCO Global MIL week, which in some countries has national working groups and events that you might want to connect with.
Moreover, in the field of youth information and counselling, of which MIL is also part, many youth information services all over Europe network through ERYICA – European Youth Information and Counselling Agency, mobility information services – www.eurodesk.eu.
SALTO Participation and Information Resource Centre also organises MIL activities, and you can stay up to date with these future activities by visiting Participation Resource Pool or signing up to the monthly newsletter sent by the network of SALTO resource centres.
Media Residents is a German project for refugees with a media background or interest in the media that provides them with the possibility to continue working in their field of profession or to start their own media initiatives.
Moreover, please see the work of the MILEN network, which has experts and practices with illiterate users, indigenous languages or other groups. The experience of Mr. Osama Manzar is particularly interesting. More can be found here.
Assessing MIL skills is the first step in mapping a course of action, whether as a facilitator providing tools for others or just someone looking for self-improvement. There is a seeming abundance of evaluation tools online, as there is a variety of interpretations on the specific skill sets that should be incorporated in MIL in different schools of thought.
I would recommend sticking to the DIGICOMP framework as a reference point, which lists 21 competences in 5 key areas; it also highlights and explains (with examples!) the 8 proficiency levels from beginner to highly-specialised. Based on DIGICOMP, you could try out this free self-assessment wheel with an option to go premium if diving deeper seems necessary, or you could try out Europass, which helps create an online CV and also maps out digital competences in the process.
As a facilitator, evaluation in the beginning and at the close of the workshop can be very helpful. There is no need to try and cover all MIL areas and skill sets in one go – instead, try to choose a more narrow field within the framework and base questions on that. For example, with news literacy training, I would start by asking the participants to assess their own knowledge of news media, such as how journalists create content for news outlets, how they assess and verify the information that the news story is based on, and how the topics that make the cut are chosen. Then I would move on to their engagement levels with news media, such as which mediums they use, which platforms, do they subscribe or only read up to the paywall, how often do they finish a news story before sharing and so on. Once that has been established, only then would I start discussions about media and platform politics and policies, along with the wider impact of news media on society.
In general, I have found when training groups of all ages that self-assessment is the way to go, as we tend to want to look our best when our skills are being assessed by someone else. A good trick for trying to assess a bigger group of trainees whilst keeping egos out of the equation is to ask the participants to close their eyes, prepare a list of statements and ask everyone who relates to raise their hand. For example, having the same password for all of your professional and personal life online is a security risk most people (unfortunately) have taken, but the sea of hands will make one feel less alone and more determined to do better.
You have answered your own question in part – MIL education should be implemented at an early age because internet users are becoming younger and younger.
Young peoples’ lives online is a wide research topic that has new and emerging studies coming out daily. When talking about education at an early age, one should consider educators’ relation to the target group first.
As a parent nurturing our youth, keep in mind that your child will be exposed to the internet regardless of whether you have equipped them for it or not. Early age MIL education usually begins when children come into contact with (social) media at home. For example, there is an emerging generation who engage in sharenting, which has led to questions of the child’s right to privacy and what effect having a massive digital footprint before one can speak will have on emotional well-being and later childhood. For an up-to-date and very well researched intro into the topic, I highly recommend this free online book from the OECD.
For facilitators aiming to inspire youth centre kids from different backgrounds, make sure to agree on boundaries with the parents firsthand, and keep the topics focused and narrow. For example, I usually only address specific apps or behavioural patterns within that app when it comes to preschoolers, as general knowledge on all of the possibilities of the online world is simply not age-appropriate (and might accidentally give them some wicked new ideas or outlets). Try and meet the kids where they are, instead of imposing your online realities on them. EU Kids Online is a great resource for learning more about popular apps and trends online for different age groups.
Watch a documentary film “Digital Natives: An Unhealthy Generation?” by ARTE, which addresses media consumption and the health of young people and children.
As we love to repeat at the beginning of all SALTO PI events: there is no participation without information. That is the first connection I would emphasise when speaking of digital media and activism. Information literacy could be seen as the foundation that enables the rapid, cross-border spread of political movements, campaigns and events, whilst critical thinking is what enables the recipient of said information to assess whether or not it is verifiable, real and worth their emotional labour and time.
Humans are social animals, after all, and we like to know that the people we care about also care about the stuff we care about, with the youth demonstrating an especially high favour for collective political activism on social media. Digital media has definitely helped activism with more than just spreading knowledge and meeting like-minded people. Hashtags, for example, have enabled us to mobilise masses of people and create sustained movements for social change, and they have been instrumental in movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #FridaysforFuture and #TimesUp. The fact that most politicians also engage in digital campaigning or Public Relations means it is easier to get policymakers to pay attention to issues online in comparison to, say, waiting for public town hall meetings. PEW Research Center has a great report on Americans and social media activism, and the underlying findings can be applied to online activism in all developed countries.
Digital and social media are tools for political activism, not the sole vessels, as we well know from history. However, youth-initiated online solutions have proven very useful in fighting corruption in Ukraine and as digital natives, their role in the emerging alter-activism practices is undeniable. Read more on how in a global pandemic, the youth have adapted especially well, and are engaging in activism even more than previously, giving youth participation a whole new dimension.
The connection between social media, activism and (youth) participation is well-researched (see previous answer), and there are many take-aways for fighting against racism in that context too.
An obvious connection with anti-racist movements online and media literacy is, of course, the stream of dis-, mis- and mal-information meant to de-stabilise the movements. For example, with #BlackLivesMatter, researchers from the University of Washington uncovered information operations by trolls within the online communities where anti-racist activists connect and organise by infiltrating the communities and acting as “one of their own” in order to earn a credit of trust.
The trolls then start shaping the agenda by taking advantage of information overload. This has also been the case with disinformation campaigns from other actors and other examples. When analysing the narratives in different contexts and regions, there is evidence of false information spread that is not even meant to persuade the recipient of its validity, rather simply to confuse them. Maybe even confuse the recipient enough for them to lose trust in the media/medium/narrative altogether. For online anti-racist communities, that could manifest in an abundance of new goals and issues to work towards in order to shift focus from goals that are less desirable for the manipulating actor.
So, in short, MIL is an integral part of successfully mobilising anti-racist allies online. Critical thinking is what MIL skills can be built on, as well as being the end-product of MIL education and the starting point of any individual delving into the fight for societal change. Also, check out this resource on how to use media and mediums to support children in their growth into allies.
Also, see resources and information available on the No Hate Speech campaign page.
Discrimination and hate tend to heavily rely on negative stereotypes, whilst becoming media and information literate helps one to seek out, evaluate and verify information. Mis-informed people make mis-informed decisions according to their limited understanding of the state of things.
For example, with anti-racism and #BlackLivesMatter, educating oneself and others around them is one of the postulates set for white allies. The educating of masses online has become such a burden for Black activists that the practice of asking Black people to explain racism has been dubbed an extortion of emotional labour.
Unfortunately, independent research beyond YouTube, Wikipedia or the first page of Google search’s results is still rare, and this is where MIL workshops and events could really support movements against discrimination (also see the answer to my last question).
Check out this page for lesson plans, tools and resources on connecting MIL and discrimination for children and teens.
Also, see resources and information available on the No Hate Speech campaign page.
My first suggestion would be to approach these topics separately in youth work. These are heavy topics as they are, and even though sextortion and hate speech can be a form of cyberbullying, it is important the youth differentiates between the three.
As facilitators, however, I can understand the grouping of these three patterns of behaviour, as they are all usually rooted in being mis-informed (also, see answer to previous question), happening online and are illegal in many parts of the world. I, personally, would approach it with the same logic as smoking or drinking whilst underage: if and why it is illegal, how will my behaviour affect others and how will it affect me.
Luckily, there are many resources on using MIL skills to combat hate speech, such as this guide for tackling hate speech on Twitter, this guide aimed at young adults, and this excerpt from UNESCO’s World Trends Report. Also, see these resources on sextortion and how to deal with it as an educator; the guide for adults on how to respond to cyber-bullying, resources for adults wanting to help and this skill-based lesson plan on cyber-bullying.
Also, see resources and information available on the No Hate Speech campaign page.
Such an important thing to consider – and kudos to you for thinking of others. Being forced online for a species that relies on cooperation and social interaction for survival poses some obvious negative effects. The residents of Wuhan, for example, reported symptoms of depression (not being able to experience joy, struggling to find meaning in life) and secondary trauma (COVID-19 thoughts bringing on disturbing dreams and/or heart palpitations) related to social media usage during the early onset of the epidemic.
In this article, which is a good introduction to excessive media use (if I do say so myself), I also highlight that research has found at least one positive in the increased time spent online during the pandemic: inequalities in news consumption have somewhat reduced, meaning that people who usually do not engage with news media have reconnected with it.
Even newer research suggests that up to a point, social media has provided necessary emotional, informational and peer support, which Maia says she personally really resonates to. Nothing like seeing a meme that captures your emotions during a time where being overwhelmed seems like the new normal.
When it comes to supporting your community, you know best. For me, I really resonate with the anti-success-cult movement. As social media relies on our need to compare ourselves to others to measure our own success, there has been quite a strong current within the online wellness community that challenges the idea that we need to achieve goals, be it weight loss or writing a book, even faster now that the world has slowed down. It is completely okay if you have low motivation levels – we are in a pandemic after all – and as a human being, seeing this message replicated over and over whilst providing new outlooks, verified information and soothing memes online is what I have decided to give back to my (online) community.
Also, see the answer to the next question for tips on looking after our health whilst spending more time online.
Being online itself is not unhealthy – most of us are all habitual users and tend to go overboard, as that is exactly what the apps, mediums and platforms we use are designed to do. Human attention is the commodity sold online, and we are auctioning our lives off to advertisers second by second, whilst “free” apps and platforms compete on who can keep scrolling the longest.
So, information would be my first answer. Once we know the ways we are being manipulated into spending more and more time online, we can counteract them with digital detox strategies, such as turning off notifications, setting limits on how often we check our phone, setting non-screen time periods aside in the day (especially first thing in the morning and last thing before going to bed), joining smartphone detox challenges or trying app blockers like App Detox, Space or Tracky.
However, Internet addiction, social media addiction, technology addiction and video game addiction are very real problems that can not be be self-diagnosed and should be addressed with trained professionals. Dig into mindful smartphone use and introduce the concept of JOMO to the people around you.
We completely agree with you! This is especially true online, where simply unfollowing or blocking someone of a different opinion is so easy. It can be seen as the pitfall that has led to the heavy polarisation in online debate. As tech giants are interested in keeping us engaged on their specific platform for as long as possible, the algorithms feed us things that we are most interested in. And shockingly enough, most people are interested in feeling witty and special, not being proven wrong (I know I am!). Scientists have studied these patterns – you might have heard of filter bubbles or echo chambers. Algorithms feed us content that resonates with us; we like, share or engage; they feed us more similar content and down the rabbit hole we go.
Debate through dialogue is included in most frameworks on developing skills of critical thinking. A great resource is David Buckingham’s blog where he defines critical thinking and suggests the way it should be taught to young students.
We would recommend starting with the basics as a youth worker: how to differentiate fact (emotionless) and opinion (based on subjective experience); how to use them in building arguments; how to debate without resorting to ad hominem arguments.
Another important step for me in starting to engage with people I disagree with was coming to a conclusion and then making a decision for life: that I can learn something new from everyone and anyone, and that I can change my viewpoints accordingly. This mindset shift depends on personality types and comes with age for some, but as youth workers, you can nudge the young in this direction by building convincing arguments ourselves.
For example, science is ever changing and growing. New discoveries are made on the shoulders of researchers who came before us, and thanks to them, new knowledge can be added to the topic. Newton paved the way for Einstein, but could not get gravity completely right either – still, he did the best out of anyone in his time. And similarly, the past version of me that believed something else has paved the way for this new and wiser version of me, and it is all possible because of my openness to the notion that I have not – nor has anyone else – reached the epitome of all knowledge in the world. Until we do, we will be constantly learning, and mostly from each other.
We annoyingly always start off by stating that the first thing you need to know about “fake news” is that the term has been hijacked by politicians around the world. For this reason, in order not to give (more) power to political games, researchers now refer to information disorders. Read more on terminology and why I think it is important in this article in the Participation Resource Pool, where Maia Klaassen describes examples of different types of misleading and manipulative content.
That brings us to the next question: why should we care? This article on the changes in our informational behaviour and the importance of news literacy, accompanied by this article on the impact media has on society and individuals, are great starting points to start asking bigger philosophical questions.
Now that your curiosity has peaked – or anxiety for the future has set in – Maia recommends that you explore further into what is being done to increase resilience against harmful narratives and information campaigns, this very platform being one of them.
There is a question above that addresses the evaluation of MIL skills on an individual level, which youth workers could complement by becoming acquainted with the European Media Literacy Standard for Youth Workers. For inspirational practices around Europe, this magazine edition really dives into what has been done and what still could be done.
You can explore tactics on policy levels by consulting the European Commission Communication of April 2018, Action Plan against Disinformation of December 2018 and the Communication on COVID-19 and Disinformation of June 2020.
The foundation for recognising false information is laid in our knowledge and recognition of quality information – see this article to get to know the topic. Knowledge alone isn’t enough, though; it must be put into practice. For me personally, constantly reminding myself to stay alert is one of the key elements in navigating my informational sphere.
The second key element is reminding oneself to stay humble.
Maia shares: “As someone researching information disorders, I am not exempt from falling victim to manipulation myself. For example, the Conspiracy Chart by Abbie Richards made me take a hard look at why I, at one point, found the #FreeBritney hashtag plausible. The answer for me was, it is rooted in actual historical events and facts, then goes on to build a narrative that toys with my emotions and fits my (limited) understanding of the person in the heart of it.”
So how did Maia go about verifying whether this is a rumour that spiraled out of control or a new cause to rally behind?
“I usually follow the same steps as I would if I were a journalist writing a piece: I check the author, the sources (human and written), the publication or platform’s background, the general tone and possible benefits of a narrative like this; then search for separate facts, like the court dates for the #FreeBritney example,” Maia explains. There is a resource from the European Commission that helps you to evaluate each step; have a look!
One of the easiest ways to verify whether something is real or not is to simply search for whether or not this topic has already been debunked. In Britney’s case, I would type in “freebritney” AND “debunked” or “freebritney” AND “factcheck” and voila – USA Today has already performed a fact-check.
Most debunking and fact-checking sites, Snopes for example, map out the process of fact-checking in a way that enables the readers to retrace their steps. Search or browse for an interesting story and try it out; that’s how skills are gained! We have also included an array of verification tools in the Participation Pool – using mobile verification tools makes fact-checkers out of all of us.
This is a difficult question to answer, as you have lumped countries that have developed very different identities in the last 30 years into one pot. Many MIL-challenges are cross-border, of course, and there are some trends in the region worth mentioning.
Post-Soviet countries tend to have parallel informational spheres, usually divided into media spheres in local languages and the Russian media sphere. For example, in the Baltics, the Russian-speaking population is one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to disinformation, because they tend to consume specific channels, with little diversity of information. This weakness has been explored by malicious actors since the annexed countries gained re-independence, with the annexation of Crimea as an example of how Russian trolls and Western media alike were used as tools in hybrid warfare.
In her BA thesis, Maia found that this is not necessarily a bad thing: Estonian journalists have advanced skills and inner “manipulation detectors” that have developed over the course of three decades of constant information operations, both small and large in scale. Finland – which was not part of the Soviet Union, but is geopolitically located in a “hot zone” for Russian information operations – is now at the forefront in students’ comprehension and skills of media literacy topics after 10 years of constant work and policy-making.
So, in short – MIL activities, campaigns and events aimed at educating individuals for improved societal resilience are together a matter of national security for countries in this region. Listen to this podcast episode with Tessa Jolls and Guna Spurava for more context.
Here’s a thought exercise for you. What do you understand as propaganda? Harold Lasswell, the father of propaganda theory, famously stated that any message created with the purpose of manipulating the recipient into thinking or acting differently could be seen as such. That lumps hybrid warfare and Tide commercials into the same pot.
What is the difference between propaganda and mis-, mal- or disinformation? Read this article for a refresher on different types of information disorders.
News literacy skills are the basis for recognising manipulative content in news media, no doubt about it. Your approach depends on the end goal – and be honest here. If you want to change the minds of a whole nation, you could become a journalist, or a fact-checker. Debunking propaganda as an individual with no professional training could lead to you amplifying the misleading information and actually making it spread further. Good intentions do not always equal a good outcome.
Micro-interventions, we have found, are the middle ground between saving the world and keeping your friends (even the ones that have become obsessed with QAnon). Instead of unfollowing, engage. Instead of fighting, debate through dialogue. Instead of shaming, facilitate new knowledge. Instead of trying to win, consider successfully stepping into someone else’s shoes as the real win.
Also, have a look at some of the answers to the questions regarding verifying information and toxic narratives above for tips and links!
Are you familiar with Laswell’s Communication Model? His “Who – says what – in which channel – to whom – with what effect?” approach exemplifies how the communicator passes on the message via a specific medium to a receiver who then interprets it depending on their objective understanding of the world. In each of those steps, information disorders can occur, be it a language barrier, crackly radio or different background knowledge. That will lead to the recipient receiving a whole other message than the one the communicator intended to set out.
News media over-simplifies things to avoid confusion and minimise the amount of different interpretations that the recipients could have. When creating messages for any medium, the information behaviour patterns of this day and age must also be considered – the attention span of a human being is the shorter, the more new apps or platforms that call for undivided attention simultaneously. If the average reader spends 17 seconds on a news story as is the case with a leading daily newspaper in Estonia, is there another way to construct messages without only partially informing (therefore misinforming) the readers? A philosophical question that I have no answer to.
A good tip for more complex topics for a variety of different recipients is to use audiovisual mediums. That way, even if the meaning behind the communicator’s words gets lost, there are other sources of interpreting the message and verifying whether the recipient and the communicator are on the same page. But even with videos, the ones under a minute with subtitles for muted watching will fly the furthest – and for that, the message needs to be simplified yet again.
“I do know from experience (and as a person who revels in paragraph-long sentences), I have not come up with a reasonable alternative for simplified messages when directing them at the masses. With more specific target groups, messages can be tailored accordingly, which is why the alternative is not trying to relay your message to everyone at once. Choose a group with similar background knowledge, who understand your references and whom you are familiar with (or can get familiar with) and go wild,” recommends Maia.
Young people use social media more often and for more diverse reasons than any other age group – it is essentially an online extension of their offline lives (read more in this report). For teenagers, the social internet access gap has almost completely closed, in other words: social media has served as an entry point to the Internet of Things for many young people who were previously digitally excluded or considered “victims” of the digital divide.
The impact of social media for any age group has been elaborated on in previous questions about healthy ways to stay online, but what I would like to (re-)emphasise when it comes to young people is that social media has been interwoven into their lives in ways previous generations might not understand.
For example, millenials are usually the first to try out new apps and platforms, but it’s hard to keep them there. Now imagine you’re the only person in Grade 7 who hasn’t heard of Wibo (and if you actually haven’t heard of this Tinder-like app for underage people, you should read this overview of popular apps amongst the youth) and the social repercussions and feelings of alienation that come with it. As adults, parents, youth workers and educators our job is to support their online and offline lives and steer them towards balance, not dub social media the villain.
Now when it comes to the global experience with the internet, there is definitely not enough character space in a Q&A for that. Have a read about Big Data, Cyber Crimes, Cyber Bullying, Sextortion, Internet Safety and Online Realities to start bringing together the small pieces of the puzzle that formulates the complete answer on that. I would also recommend this study and this book.
What a great question! Information-seeking behaviour amongst the youth depends on whether they have networks (like friends and parents) around them who are engaged in technology, but teenagers today seek information differently from the pre-internet and social media age.
According to the DesYign report by ERYICA (European Youth Information and Counselling Agency), teens tend to Google search to get the primary idea and then consult more legitimate sources and friends, and they prefer consuming information from images and videos rather than long texts. Information-seeking is autonomous, but a need for a cognitive authority (a source of expertise and knowledge) was demonstrated by the respondents, which shows youth information services could play an important role here.
We have elaborated on the quality of information and social media approaches of teens in the answers above, but in general, to enhance young people’s awareness, one must produce content on media of their choice (meet them where they are), stay relevant in young people’s lives and disseminate produced content on appropriate channels.