What fake news is doing to digital literacy

Bryan Alexander, Jun 15, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes
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The issues of fake news and digital literacy have received a thorough airing over the last year or so, but despite that, we still have too much of the former and too little of the latter. The responses, as Bryan Alexander characterizes them, fall into two camps: (lower-case-d) democrats, who feel people can and should learn to make their own information choices, and neo-gatekeepers, who call on regulations to govern Facebook and Twitter and the rest (and maybe even the traditional media) to help people cope. I fall mostly into the former camp, though I do think that the proliferation of hatred and abuse have no place in any form of media. What also concerns me is that the widely understood definitions of digital literacy, critical thinking, and related concepts, are incorrect. For example, Alexander states that "digital literacy means learners are social, participatory makers." Well, no - this describes a practice, not a literacy. And the western-centric perspective of commentators continues to frustrate. In a world where most people are young, how can you say "it’s old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky?" People today need to learn how to read, more than ever - not books and newspapers and such (though that wouldn't hurt), but signs and portents, geographies and cultures, people and technologies. That's not digital literacy, especially - that's just literacy - or, as Friere would say, "reading the world".

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