Media and Information Literacy: Why does it matter?

Author: Christiana Varda and Eleni A. Kyza. Media, Cognition and Learning Research Group, Department of Communication and Internet Studies at the Cyprus University of Technology

As we navigate the so-called “post-truth” age on the internet, riddled with potentially misleading content, it becomes more obvious with time that tackling online misinformation requires much more than detection.

Beyond calls for social media regulation, media literacy has frequently been put forth by experts, the public, and Co-Inform participants during our first co-creation workshops in Austria, Greece, and Sweden, as a way to address the challenge of misinformation in the long term.  For instance, and in accordance with the Action Plan against Disinformation, the European Commission organized the first European Media Literacy week in March 2019, to raise awareness and showcase existing initiatives.

Though much of the attention has focused on media literacy, often presented as a way of safeguarding individuals against misinformation, several researchers argue that this is at the cost of trivializing a much more complex problem (read this response from a media literacy expert), while others question the importance of media literacy efforts.  A recent study concludes that information literacy, rather than media literacy, is more useful in helping individuals identify online misinformation; a careful examination of the article, however, brings into question the instruments selected to assess each type of literacy, as those used for media literacy were heavily skewed towards conventional media.

We argue that media literacy is not the only answer to the problem of online misinformation. It is certainly important, but attention should be shifting to Media and Information Literacy (MIL) instead, and its potential to enable individuals to process and evaluate online information with discernment. We believe that both media and information literacy skills are essential, though these are not something you either have or haven’t got. Individuals today are bombarded with media and information and are called to deconstruct and evaluate messages constantly. To be able to do that definitely requires some level of media and information literacy.


So, what is media and information literacy?

Put simply, MIL aims to enable individuals to think critically about the media and the information they consume by engaging in a process of inquiry. The aim, according to UNESCO’s definition of media and information literacy, is to allow individuals to become engaged citizens and responsible decision-makers. By evaluating the source, the context, the message and the medium within which it is received, considering its representations and its intended audience, as well as the institutional context from which the message emerges, MIL invites individuals to evaluate media at a critical distance.

Developing competencies towards media and information, is especially relevant within the contemporary media landscape. The blurring of the lines between producers and consumers has challenged what we consider media messages and made information access universal: a news headline, a video, a meme or a social media post or comment vie for our attention on social media platforms. Nowadays, anyone can create an official-looking website or social media account at very little cost. In fact, misinformation has often stemmed from seemingly legitimate websites and this makes it very difficult to flag false or misleading information using conventional methods, such as checklists, with questions that prompt evaluation of sites for currency, relevance, accuracy, authority and purpose. When it comes to evaluating news online, whether it’s from reputable sources or not, determining who and what to trust requires critical reflection.


However, it is useful to think of media and information literacy as a continuum rather than an outcome — we can all be more media and information literate.

As our dependence on technology increases, thinking critically about media and information is a life-long learning skill that supports active and informed citizens who play a key role in ensuring democracy doesn’t die online.

Co-Inform mission is to foster critical thinking and digital literacy. 

Academic surveys have shown that online misinformation is becoming more difficult to identify. Online misinformation has the potential to deceive even readers with strong literacy skills. Our goal is to provide citizens, journalists, and policymakers with tools to spot ‘fake news’ online, understand how they spread, and obtain access to verified information. 

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Co-Inform Copyright 2021

Co-inform project is co-funded by Horizon 2020 – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020)
Type of action: RIA (Research and Innovation action)
Proposal number: 770302

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