As Sonia Livingstone has pointed out, ‘media literacy’ is often proposed as a ready solution. Yet although both Ofcom and the European Commission (in its Audiovisual Media Services Directive) monitor and nominally promote media literacy, it is not embedded in UK government policy or the school curriculum, which focuses on digital safety. Instead the main impetus has come from not-for-profit and media organisations. The most recent initiatives in the UK include:
Comparatively few media literacy initiatives are aimed specifically at adults. However, the European Commission’s ‘DisInfo’ campaign is an example: its purpose is specifically to undermine Russian disinformation: the National Security Unit, announced in early 2018, also focuses on ‘fake news’ from ‘state actors’.
Citizenship cannot just be a matter of assessing competing claims and coming to an informed judgment at election time. It means being able to have a meaningful say in policymaking, to organise or join political movements, and to debate and challenge others - a ‘democratic and critical approach’, as Livingstone has described it:
'The promise of media literacy, surely, is that it can form part of a strategy to reposition the media user - from passive to active, from recipient to participant, from consumer to citizen.' (Livingstone, 2004)
As more and more political discussion happens online, the ‘communicative entitlement’ to participate in the life of the community (Nick Couldry) has been shaped by the policies and site designs of platforms, and these in turn are shaped by issues of legal liability, advertising, algorithmic design and the attention economy rather than democratic and civic considerations. Even Facebook’s recent drive to make its political advertising more transparent has had the unintended consequence of denying undocumented immigrants the right to buy advertising, on the basis that they cannot satisfactorily prove their identity.
Indeed, for some scholars the key question is whether online anonymity is a vital recourse to ensure freedom of expression, or if it fosters abuse and disengagement:
'When you don’t know where the purported voice on the other side of the debate is coming from, even whether it is one voice, when you don’t know whether your remarks are being edited and fed in certain ways into some channels and not others, when you don’t know how what you say is being spread around – I think that is really likely to prove utterly destructive of democracy in the end.' (Onora O’Neill, 2013)