Safer Internet Day: Let’s deliver on digital literacy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Maria Gabriel is EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

Maria Gabriel is EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. [European Commission]

On Safer Internet Day, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel writes for EURACTIV that young people should be given more support in media literacy, allowing them to avoid the pitfalls of disinformation across the online world.

Mariya Gabriel is EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

The online world provides young people and children with limitless opportunities to learn, to communicate, but also to create and share content. It is often our young people who are first to discover and use new social media platforms; share apps or mobilise themselves online in view of promoting social good.

It is a world of knowledge at their fingertips.

And given the shift to distance and online learning in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the internet has enabled more than 100 million students and pupils in Europe to continue with their studies.

When online, young people need to understand what they read so that they can assess and evaluate it in view of making informed choices: Is this information trustworthy? Is this from a trusted source? Should this be shared further?

Online threats and disinformation, although multi-faceted issues, are not new. Whether it be the dissemination of fake news, the existence of online echo chambers confirming one’s biases or cyber-bullying and online radicalisation, the online world can bring out both the best and worst of unfiltered discussion and debate.

This past year has been no exception when it comes to disinformation. If anything, it has accelerated ongoing trends and highlighted the need for reliable sources of information. The numbers speak for themselves: 74% of Europeans express concern about the presence of fake news relating to COVID and 85% claim the need to hear more from scientists. It also saw the rise of the ‘infodemic’ and the flood of false information about the virus.

The need to do more is loud and clear: Our young people must feel safe and empowered when navigating the online world.

And, according to a 2019 Eurobarometer poll, 41% of young people think that critical thinking and media are not “taught sufficiently in schools’’.

The European Commission is ready to deliver on more of what our young people and education and training institutions need.

In September 2020, the European Commission adopted the Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027). It aims to close the digital divide and promote quality online learning in an inclusive and lifelong learning perspective. It also supports education systems and institutions to develop their digital capabilities, including through acquiring infrastructure and equipment.

In short, if we want Europe to lead the digital transformation, our young people need to be equipped with the digital skills and competences to do so.

Digital literacy is increasingly recognised as a prerequisite for living and thriving in the digital age. The public consultation on the Digital Education Action Plan highlighted that managing the overload of information online, identifying facts from fake information and content, and protecting personal data online are the top three digital skills and competences needed for 21 century.

The Action Plan promotes digital literacy in view of tackling disinformation and puts education and training at the heart of this effort.

It will bring together journalists, broadcasters, technology companies, civil society, public authorities, as well as young people and families to work and help our young people critically engage with online media together.

Media literacy and disinformation is also the annual theme of eTwinning in 2021, engaging directly with the teachers’ community in this discussion.

Likewise, this “whole of society” approach of bringing together educators, teachers as well as the media, broadcasters, and civil society is championed by Safer Internet Day.

Organized by the EU-funded Safer Internet Centres’ network and the Safer Internet Day Committees worldwide under the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children, it brings together thousands of people and organisations.

What started as a small event with a handful of countries 17 years ago, has grown into an annual global celebration in 170 countries. As the day’s slogan says, Safer Internet Day brings the whole world ‘together for a better internet’.

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