MODULE 1 - THE MEDIA UNIVERSE
SESSION 2 : NEW MEDIAEducational sheet 6
CHAPTER 6 – DIGITAL MEDIA: RISKS AND OPPORTUNITIES
Level : Advanced
Objective 1: Identifying the risks and opportunities of young people using the internet
Objective 2: Becoming aware of the influence of algorithms on how we navigate the internet
Objective 3: Understanding the role of media literacy in teaching young people about best internet practices and online civic action.
The internet’s opportunities and risks to young people
The internet and mobile telephones, beyond their entertainment value, provide a new way of socialising and accessing essential knowledge for today’s children and teenagers. These new technologies represent an excellent chance to improve the quality of life of young people all over the world and provide unlimited knowledge in all essential areas – including education, health, science, and culture – with just a mouse click. The advances of the digital era are not without downsides, however. The virtual revolution has created dangers and risks similar to those of the real world that young users must face.
UNESCO has identified and classified the risks to young people online. These include exposure to paedophilic content, hate speech, and fake news as well as inappropriate advertisements, commercial scams, and manipulation of personal data.
Education is the best way to respond to these threats that await any young internet user. It is essential for parents and other responsible adults to teach media literacy so that young people learn the best practices that will shield them from the dangers of the internet.
These include properly managing your online digital identity by choosing the right settings for your social media profile and protecting your personal data. Raising awareness about good online citizenship is also important: respecting others’ privacy, thinking before you post, respecting your friends’ right to their image, and so on. These are essential ground rules that help prevent abuses such as cyberbullying.
Teaching young people about filter bubbles
Digital platforms such as Google and Facebook use algorithms to provide content based on our online behaviour, that is, our past interactions such as clicks, likes, purchases, and browser history. Tech companies use algorithms to offer a personalised online experience based on predictive analysis that seeks to anticipate our expectations. For the tech giants, the goal is to influence our behaviour for profit.
The influence of algorithms is far from harmless. It creates a problem for internet users and consumers like ourselves – and especially young people – known as a ‘filter bubble’. This is a situation in which “the information internet users see is the result of a personalisation mechanism that has been deployed without their knowledge”. The term ‘filter bubble’ refers to the isolation created by this mechanism: each user sees a different, unique version of the web. The risk is then that users remain stuck in a narrow digital universe that pushes a continuous loop of the same kinds of information. This algorithmic imprisonment drastically limits sources of information, reduces awareness, and undermines critical thinking. It therefore deprives users of the theoretical broadening of horizons that the internet promises; they no longer benefit from encounters with a range of opinions, which are essential to intellectual development.
This is why media literacy is needed to raise public awareness of the dangers of the algorithmic echo chamber. Understanding how it works is a vital step to breaking out of it and increasing the sources of information one sees. It is an essential condition to making the internet live up to its original promises of emancipation and freedom.