Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship
Executive Director’s Message by Andrea Bennett
As we begin another presidential election season, the CETPA Board of Directors and Staff have been discussing the importance of digital literacy and digital citizenship. We are exposed to so much information online and it is clear that this content can be manipulated and censored to sway the public in one direction or another. Using the right tools to disseminate and validate information is more important than ever.
Digital Literacy is defined by the American Library Association’s digital literacy task force as “Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”
The Digital Citizenship website http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/ describes Digital Citizenship as “Digital citizenship is the continuously developing norms of appropriate, responsible, and empowered technology use.
When I was young, citizenship was a grade that represented one’s behavior in the classroom. To be a good citizen of the class, you behaved well and followed the rules. Literacy had to do with reading, writing, and the ability to comprehend and communicate knowledge. So, if one were literate and a good citizen, they were, respected and assumed to be truthful. The goal, as I understood it as a young person was to achieve this status as early in your life as possible so you could succeed and be respected. It was easier then than now, in my opinion because the information a young person was exposed to was more limited than today and it was documented in text books or communicated verbally by elders who knew the topic and its history. Now, young and old are exposed to so much information from so many sources, the ability to understand the norms and the ability to use the information found to become literate is constantly changing. It feels almost impossible to master.
In addition, the information is no longer assumed to be true as in the past. We must first determine the validity of the source, then assume they are literate and acting as a good citizen before we can identify the information as true. Searches can be especially suspect and even dangerous because the information is being manipulated by algorithms and by content moderators. There are so many people out there acting as bad citizens that multiple industries, companies, and organizations have developed to help keep the possibility of digital literacy possible.
Teachers began a long time ago teaching kids how to sift through the information online. Remember the Octopus in the tree? Inaccurate information was easier to spot, usually posted by an individual who was either trying to be funny or just didn’t do enough research. When we first got online, we still had our identities and reputations and didn’t want those tarnished. Most of us didn’t create phony accounts to post anonymous comments. We used the internet to connect, learn, and teach. Now, with anonymity and the deliberate manufacture of information meant to incite and sway public opinion, not tell the whole truth, we have a difficult time understanding what is true – and if it is difficult for us, imagine how it is for young people.
I am reading Sarah T. Roberts’ book, Behind the Screen Content Moderation in the Shadows of Social Media. I look forward to her closing keynote at the 2019 CETPA Annual Conference. In the book, Ms. Roberts describes the work of content moderators and commercial content moderation. This is the practice of moderating what gets posted online, either before or after it gets posted. I won’t try to sum up all the information in the book, it is packed with research she has spent years collecting and analyzing.
Commercial content moderation is a critical component for commercial sites that ensures brand protection, adherence to terms of services and copyright laws, etc. Service companies all over the world handle commercial content moderation for companies like Facebook, Google, etc. Ms. Roberts points out that we are giving unprecedented control to private companies who dictate what we see and how we see it. In a perfect world, these moderators would ensure that the information posted online is true, not offensive, and complete. We are far from living in a perfect world.
Ms. Roberts details why these content moderators exist and how they work. Their role is extremely important as Ms. Roberts states: “Commercial content moderators serve an integral role in making decisions that affect the outcome of what content will be made available on a destination site.”
Content moderators are human beings being tasked with making the decision as to whether the content can be seen or not. Technically, they must have mastered digital literacy and digital citizenship. Is that even possible? In addition, they are paid very low wages and they are hired as contractors so have no benefits. The amount of content being uploaded is staggering and moderators must make quick decisions, how can they be right 100% of the time?
Commercial content moderation is done all over the world. Company policies can tend to be biased based on the culture where that company is located or based on the upper management’s priorities. Moderators are not always educated about the content they are seeing and sometimes they are told what to allow and what not to allow based on the companies’ priorities, not based on how gory the content is or whether it has been verified. Ms. Roberts talks with moderators working in the Silicon Valley, Mexico, and the Philippines. Do moderators in the Silicon Valley make the same decisions as one working in the Philippines or in Mexico? If they are given training and parameters, perhaps. But who creates the parameters?
Yes, this work needs to be done but it seems that there is no good way to do it. Moderators can take down a lot of offensive content and our firewalls and content filters also help. As we enter another political season that promises to be contentious, I feel for the educators who are trying to teach digital literacy and digital citizenship. I hope schools make it a priority. It could be one of the most important lessons for our young people today.