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Media and information literacy

Last edited: July 28, 2020

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Empowerment of women and girls (and men and boys) through media and information literacy is critical in fostering equitable access to information and knowledge and providing the skills needed to navigate and engage with the content being disseminated through various channels (print, audio, video, digital, etc.). This is especially important given the volume of information and images, including, but not limited to, explicitly harmful content (e.g. pornography, misogynistic, degrading and violent material) that is easily accessible through the internet and on mobile devices.

This is particularly worrying for young people, given the detrimental impacts repeated exposure has on the brain during this critical developmental stage. 

Pornography, the Internet and Young People (Australia)

Researchers in Australia surveyed 692 youth ages 13-16 to better understand their use of the internet and exposure to harmful material.  Alarmingly, it was found that over 90% of the surveyed boys and 60% of girls in this age group had seen pornography online. Complementary research on the industry itself, found that the nature of pornography that youth were exposed to had changed from years past, with scenes that included verbal (48%) and physical (88%) aggression, the latter characterized by slapping, gagging and choking. In 94% of cases, these acts of aggression were directed at female performers.  The researchers stated that 30% of all internet traffic is porn-related with no differentiation between those who had restricted access compared to those with unrestricted access, indicating that exposure to this harmful material is mainstream.

Exposure to pornography has a number of detrimental effects on youth who are at a critical developmental stage and whose neurological connections in the brain are still being formed. Pornography conveys a number of problematic messages that impact on the knowledge, expectations and behaviours of young people.  These include:

- Distorted views of the relationship between intimacy and sex.

- Eroticization of violence against women.

- Notions that consent is not necessary or can be obtained with perseverance.

- Distorted views of what the average body/body parts look like.

- Fabricated and exaggerated expressions of pleasure during violent, humiliating and degrading acts.

- Discriminatory portrayals of gender and race.

In 2016, the Department of Social Services engaged the Australian Institute of Family Studies to consolidate the research and evidence-base on the effects of pornography on children and young people to articulate the impacts and recommend strategies for addressing the problem.  The report acknowledged that to address the issue comprehensively, it is important to situate it within a broader framework of primary prevention and the sexual safety and well-being of children and young people that is based on child development, sexual crime prevention, prevention education, and legal and regulatory measures.  The specific strategies entail:

- legal and regulatory avenues to existing legislation regarding online pornography

- education for children and young people; and

- education and resources for teachers and parents.

For detailed information related to the context, impacts and approaches, see: http://www.itstimewetalked.com.au/ and https://aifs.gov.au/publications/effects-pornography-children-and-young-people/export

Sources: A Bridges, R Wosnitzer, E Scharrer, C Sun & R Liberman. 2010. Aggression and Sexual Behaviour in Best-selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence against Women, vol. 16, no. 10; MJ Fleming, S Greentree, D Cocotti-Muller, K A Elias & S Morrison. 2006.Safety in cyberspace: Adolescents safety and exposure online. Youth and Society, vol. 38, no. 2.; S Anthony. 2012. Just How Big Are Porn Sites? http://www.extremetech.com; It’s time to Talk. 2014. http://www.itstimewetalked.com.au/

 “The constant exposure of populations to media presents an educational challenge, which has increased in the electronic and digital age. Evaluating information sources requires skills and critical thinking and is an educational responsibility the importance of which is often underestimated. Separating fact from opinion, evaluating text and image for bias, and constructing and deconstructing a text based on principles of logic are teachable skills. Media literacy instruction is not widely recognized for its importance as an aspect of civic and peace education and therefore few instructional programs have been developed as part of basic modern education” (UNAOC).

Social learning with MIL CLICKS

a social media innovation on media and information literacy

A girl decided to shut down her Instagram page because random strangers keep leaving insulting comments under her photos. Another girl feels ridiculed and bullied while scrolling down her Facebook timeline and seeing her friend shares a meme mocking girls who appear gender-nonconforming. The advent of social media made these stories commonplace. According to a survey conducted by Opinium for the children’s charity Plan International UK, involving 1,002 young people aged between 11 and 18, half of UK girls are bullied on social media (The Guardian, 2017).

Social media has become a central station where images full of gender stereotypes, sexist comments, misogynist posts, and other types of inappropriate gender-related speech accumulate and are extremely easy to access and share. Women and girls are therefore frequently exposed to online harassment and cyber bullying on social media. These occurrences sometimes even lead to offline violence and discrimination, such as aggressions in schools and unequal treatment at workplaces. This situation is particularly challenging for young girls who are still shaping their worldviews and learning about gender roles. Hence, it is critical to equip them with media and information literacy competencies, in order that they know how to respond to online hate, what content is appropriate to share and what is not, how to optimize their social media settings in order to avoid undesired content and harassment etc.

In early 2017, MIL CLICKS was brought to the world in this context as a powerful response, aiming to empower social media users, especially youth, with MIL competencies. It is a way for people to acquire MIL knowledge 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 socializing. It was launched by UNESCO, with the support of Saudi Arabia, European Commission, and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

MIL CLICKS develops and shares various forms of educational resources, including research findings, best practices, useful tools and practical tips. Through periodical thematic campaigns, MIL CLICKS tackles many MIL-related issues that increasingly concern our citizens, including “identify and countering gender stereotypes with MIL”. The MIL CLICKers, those who embrace the values and principles of MIL CLICKS and are learning MIL with MIL CLICKS, are strong and assertive on social media while confronted with hate, intolerance, and violence when their gender role or that of others is concerned. They know how to act and voice their opinion in a place often hostile and aggressive for women and girls.

MIL CLICKS is currently available on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Learn more about MIL CLICKS and the MIL CLICKers Pact: https://en.unesco.org/milclicks.

Imparting media and information literacy competencies to women/girls and men/boys enables them to be critical about and challenge material they are consuming as it relates to gender, power, stereotypes, violence, sexuality, discrimination and other ideas that permeate social structures and are often transmitted through media on and off line. The below table outlines the core competencies for media and information literacy along with the expected benefits.

Enlisting media and informational literacy for gender equality and women’s empowerment (Grizzle in Montiel, UNESCO, 2014)