Social Trends Institute

Media Literacy Helps People Make Smart Choices

Renee Hobbs
Media are important players in society – the proverbial ‘fourth estate’. Renee Hobbs has dedicated her career to promoting media literacy, “in the hopes of transforming passive consumers into critical users and active citizens.”

The following is an excerpt from Renee Hobbs’ answer to the question “What does society need from media in the age of digital communication?” *

Today people experience a surfeit of information and entertainment choices that require them to use increased discrimination in evaluating the content and value of media messages…

Because people are now using media in new ways and the volume of information is enormous, “all citizens need to have the ability to access, analyze and evaluate images, sounds and texts on a daily basis especially if they are to use traditional and new media to communicate and create media content.” This concept is frequently identified by the term media literacy… At the root of it, media literacy is based on a simple and sensible idea:  if the public learns more about how newspapers, magazines, movies, TV shows, radio programs, the Internet, apps and social media are constructed, they will develop critical perspectives that help them discriminate between quality and trash. They will be active e (not passive) in their media use habits and make good choices. They will be more connected to influential networks and less susceptible to propaganda and shallow sensationalism. The rise of the Internet and social media has intensified the need to build people’s knowledge and competencies in using technology and in assessing, analyzing, creating and sharing media, as digital tools are not part of many information-age jobs. People also need opportunities to reflect upon media influence on individuals and society and take appropriate forms of social and political action using media texts, tools and technologies.

All around the globe, the Internet and social media provide new opportunities for people to use the power of communication to meet their personal, economic, social and political goals. They need better understanding of these media to use them for the greatest benefit. Today, stakeholders in the media literacy movement include parents, librarians, technologists, educators, public health professionals, artists, cultural critics, and political activists.  Some are motivated by the impulse to protect people from the potential risks and harms associated with exposure to mass media and digital media; others are motivated by the empowerment opportunities created by the use of mass and digital media. 

*Excerpt from Renee Hobbs’ chapter – “Literacy:  Understanding media and how they work” – in the volume What Society Needs from Media in the Age of Digital Communication.

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