An official website of the United States government

Privacy, Citizenry and Media Literacy Education
May 18, 2018

Issues of privacy have taken to the airways worldwide. Whether it is Google, Facebook or any other social network service, students need to understand how to be proactive and protective of their digital footprint. Within the context of media literacy education, students learn to question and consider how information and disinformation exist in our society. In many ways, questioning the method of delivery — and even why we are willing to share information — says something about how we perceive information in a world where there is so much of it available but with very little clarity.

Being a private citizen in the digital age is difficult at best. There are moments when we want to share our story, images or other tidbits, and the method for doing that is readily available. However, it is important to consider what we are sharing and how far-reaching the message will be digitally. No longer is it a simple retelling with an end. Online, the ending is not always clear. Will it exist forever on a Facebook server or on Google’s search engine? Will there be another method for keeping the data? Who will use that data in the future? That last question is one that is most concerning for parents and adults in general. It is hard when you are a young adult to conceive the world beyond the moment because the expanse of it is widely in front of you. Parents and adults have begun to understand that information placed online is not so easily removed or dismissed, if at all.

What are the lessons that we can take from all of this? Individuals needs to take responsibility for their digital footprint. They must recognize that each time they put out information, there is a possibility that it will be collected and stored. Do we want that information to exist in the world? What would something said as an 11-year old look like when faced with it as a 22-year-old? What is the capacity for thinking outside of the box?

Besides being a curator of our own information, we must also be digital leaders within these social environments. Being a social leader can take many forms such as putting forth positive stories about our peers, being a social pioneer online, being of service to others in a way that uses online networking to marshal ideas forward, and so much more.

There are examples of digital online leaders everywhere. You can find some in TEDYouth talks, which provide excellent stories of what today’s youth are able to accomplish online. You can listen to authors who have written about how students can make a difference in the world. You can attend the Digital Citizenship Summit, which takes a global look at the work of students and the digital culture exemplified in their motto: “We unite organizations, educators, industry, parents and students by working WITH youth, not AT them; celebrating our shared humanity; working to do good with tech in your own sphere; and connecting with others doing good, so we can create a WE mindset.”

Media-literate citizens need to understand their role in a digital society. That role is ever-expanding and changing. Recognizing the value, power and pitfalls must all be a part of the process of learning whether it is in the area of privacy or beyond.

This post was written by Belinha De Abreu, PhD. Belinha S. De Abreu, PhD., is a media literacy educator and an international expert to the Forum on Media & Information Literacy for UNESCO’s Communication & Information Section. Her research interests include media literacy education, new media, visual and information literacy, global perspectives, data privacy, critical thinking, young adults and teacher training. De Abreu’s work was featured in The Journal of Media Literacy and the Civic Media Project. She is the author of Teaching Media Literacy (2018), co-author of Mobile Learning through Digital Media Literacy (Peter Lang, 2017) and the author/co-editor of the International Handbook of Media Literacy Education (Routledge, 2017). She serves as the vice president for the National Telemedia Council and on the Leadership Council for the National Association for Media Literacy Education. She is the organizer of the International Media Literacy Research Symposium, which has been held in the U.S. and Portugal. Follow her on Twitter @belmedia.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.