‘That can’t be true!’ Improving your ‘digital literacy’

Posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2022

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These days, most of us turn to online resources and social media for answers to our questions. But how can we make sure that what we read is accurate? We’re hearing more and more about “disinformation” and “fake news.” Some researchers even analyzed their impact on election results.

The potential negative consequences of wrong information can be scary. But we can develop our so-called “digital literacy.” Digital literacy is about curiosity and awareness and an openness to consider other perspectives.

Professor Elizabeth Dubois, University Research Chair in Politics, Communication and Technology and an associate professor in Department of Communication of the Faculty of Arts, aims to equip people with the information they need to critique what pops up on their screen or what their friends share over drinks, through her research and virtual Pol Comm Tech lab.

What you can do right now

Let’s start with the most obvious — there’s strength in numbers. If you, as a social media user, notice something that’s hate speech or harassment, you can flag it to the platform you’re on. Platforms have terms of service, community standards and moderators. Flagging hateful or harassing content every time, even though it may not get removed immediately, sends a clear message to the platforms that this is not the type of content users want to see. If enough users voice their desire to see more civil and positive content, the platforms will recalibrate their algorithms and community standards accordingly.

Breaking out of the ‘bubble’

It’s important to understand that media systems and digital platforms are designed through their algorithms to show users content they will engage with, to keep you within a “bubble” that feels right. To avoid this biased view, Dubois says that the more channels of communication and information you have in your media diet, “the less likely you are to end up in that kind of echo chamber, in that space where you’re only hearing the same things over and over again. So you don’t really have to do too much to pull yourself out of that. But you do have to just be just a little proactive.”

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