Media literacy in schools needed vs social media abuse

Camille Elemia
Media literacy in schools needed vs social media abuse
With an ever-changing medium, professionals and experts highlight the need to have media literacy classes as early as grade school

MANILA, Philippines – Media literacy is the long-term solution to fight the worsening state of disinformation and abuse on social media. (READ: Propaganda war: Weaponizing the internet)

This was emphasized during the Senate education committee hearing on Tuesday, October 18, on the responsible use of social media in schools.

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and Professor Clarissa David pushed for media literacy in schools to encourage students to be critical when using the new medium. It is, after all, unchartered territory.

“We’ve been pushing to have a media literacy class as early as 4th grade. When people go on social media, we don’t teach them what social media is and I think it seems like a science now, but it shouldn’t be because it’s all in our pockets,” Ressa said, pointing to her cellphone.

Ressa also told the committee how Facebook algorithms work – how networks are created, and when they act collectively, they can promote posts on feeds, regardless of authenticity and accuracy. (READ: How Facebook algorithms impact democracy)

“It doesn’t distinguish between fact or fiction as long as there’s high engagement,” Ressa said.

“Our social norms and values need to catch up with technology,” she said, focusing on five ideas for media literacy: social etiquette in interaction; the moral responsibility not to abuse its anonymity; to foster critical thinking; strengthen the paradigms of constructive debate; and put in place respect for plurality of ideas.

For David, one factor in the proliferation of fake sites is the Philippines’ lack of interest in reading. The Philippines is not a nation of readers, she said.

“We’ve never had a newspaper-reading public. That’s why there are still those who believe in fake sites,” she said.

“To address the root of it, media literacy is needed, as the platform is changing so much. Who knows in 3 years Facebook will not be the biggest thing? We have to understand how media operates, in terms of our values and norms,” David said, adding that Facebook, like other media, is driven by advertising.

Carlo Ople of the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the Philippines (IMMAP) shared the same sentiment, emphasizing the viciousness of trolls nowadays. (READ: Fake accounts, manufactured reality on social media)

He, however, said the rise of Internet trolls is a global phenomenon that has yet to be solved.

“It’s true about the viciousness of the attacks. On trolls, it’s not just a local problem. It’s widespread, it’s a global problem that has no known long-term solution yet,” Ople said.

Why are people nastier online?

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, committee chair, asked why people are “nastier” online nowadays, a seeming contrast to what was taught about personal interaction in schools.

David said since such acts online are already widespread, people imitate what they see. 

“One of the biggest theories here is the monkey see, monkey do. You learn it because you see it. I mean one aspect of it is we are more emboldened on social media due to anonymity,” David said.

Maribel Dionisio, a family and relationship consultant, said cyberbullying has a tremendous effect on school children.

“It’s devastating. The self-worth of the child can be really damaged by one line they will see online,” Dionisio said.

Dionisio added some children end up seeking help of professionals to get over their bad experience.


With all these issues against the Internet, should it be regulated?

For Ople, more than regulation, collaboration among groups and people is the key to solving the problem – schools, news organizations, and government, among others.

“There has to be a budget set aside for it. Education campaigns matter the most. We have to put it in the curriculum. But it’s not enough to be in the curriculum, we have highlighted its fast growth, so the curriculum has to catch up with technology,” Ople said, adding there are other problems online such as identity theft and other crimes.

In the end, the Department of Education, alongside IMMAP, Rappler, and other media agencies, have agreed to unite to promote responsible social media use to end cyberbullying and disinformation.

Aquino said he is set to conduct smaller meetings with the said groups to devise a program. There is no certainty, however, if such programs will become law.

“Hindi pa siguro (Maybe not yet). I think at this point the idea is just to band together and really try to promote more responsible social media use, headed by DepEd, Aquino said.

“But right now, the concern is there. Na-recognize na may problema at na-recognize rin na ang solusyon dito hindi lang magagawa ng isang grupo o ahensiya (The problem is already recognized. The solution is also recognized, that it can’t be done by one group or agency alone),” he added. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com