Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Digital media literacy: The most valuable skill for the digital age

By David Benigson, CEO and Founder, Signal AI

Data is essential to business success in today’s digital world. However, simply having the right technology and technical skills to handle rising levels of data is no longer enough. Organisations need a workforce that have the ability to look beyond the numbers in front of them, interpreting the data to make informed decisions and gain business value.

With today’s younger generations growing up in a digital-first world, there is a minimum level of digital media literacy that is essential, not just in everyday life, but in the workplace, as well. Digital media literacy is exactly what it sounds like – it is media literacy, layered with digital literacy.

The influence of social media, technology, and online resources is rampant and unavoidable. With this increased reliance on technology, digital media literacy is gaining recognition as the most valuable tool for lifelong learning.

Digital media literacy

It’s important for everyone to have a basic understanding of how the media works, and how to find accurate and honest reporting. We no longer gather news from just the papers, but through television, social media and online reporting.

There is an increased number of venues in which information can be received, and it is important to understand the technology needed to access, compile and share the information. The latter point is especially important nowadays, as we’re seeing cases of deepfake technology, which uses AI as its foundation, that are becoming sophisticated enough to generate fake media and news posts that are almost indistinguishable from real sources.

Digital media literacy enables people to have the skills, knowledge and understanding to make full use of the opportunities presented by both traditional and new communications services. Being literate in digital media also helps people to manage content and communications, and protect themselves and their families from the potential risks associated with using these services (Ofcom).

How do we go about addressing and combatting this challenge? As a society we need to confront this issue with a top down approach, beginning with the way we educate our children in schools. Changes to the curriculum must be implemented, which reflect the increasing requirements to analyse and interpret media and complex data sets in the workplace.

Educating with the fundamentals

With the proliferation of digital technologies fundamentally changing the nature of the workforce ecosystem, it is in turn exposing industries across the board to a digital media literacy skills shortage. The challenges this creates should be embraced through innovative solutions that rework traditional education curriculum at a primary level all the way through to employer-employee relationships.

This is an area of importance, as education policy must be adapted to help parents and students learn at home, increase digital media literacy and boost digital education structures. The ability to interrogate how data is being used to tell a story and show how it is visualised is a vital skill.

The lack of digital education has led to the current imbalance between the need for technical skills and the available workforce to provide them. While this deals directly with “hard” skills like tech implementation, the corresponding “soft” skills of the same coin include the ethics behind the technology and the objective analyses of news and research, where they came from, how they were conducted, and if they were created in good faith.

Upskilling your workforce

Rapid and ongoing changes in the nature of work itself are evolving the relationship between learning and work, making them more integrated and connected than ever before. Reskilling and upskilling have become imperative to growth for organisations.

This creates both a challenge and an opportunity to build robust work-centered learning programmes, helping people consume information and uplevel their skills in the natural course of their day-to-day jobs. To help accomplish this, organisations must begin to think about how they can build a data culture that encourages answers to a wide range of exploratory questions around data in society and business.

How do we make our employees more curious about data storytelling? How can we better encourage people to ask open-ended questions about data, and not take everything at face value?

Digital media literacy has become important, for almost every professional line of work. Companies need more people with the ability to interpret news, information and data, to draw insights, and to ask the right questions in the first place. These are skills that anyone can develop, and there are many ways for individuals to upskill themselves and for companies to support them.

Leveraging the right technology

Earlier this year, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced pro-technology regulations and initiatives to ensure an ongoing focus on digital innovation in the UK. Areas for focus include ethical online advertising, developing the UK’s National Data Strategy and working on a response to the Cairncross Review into journalism in the digital age, which includes a digital media literacy strategy.

Nicky Morgan, former secretary of state for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, highlights in her Tech Talent Charter benchmarking report that “if harnessed properly, technology is an immense force for good.”

Artificial intelligence is one of those technologies that directly lends itself in helping empower digital media literacy efforts. The technology itself is able to:

  • Aggregate content from exclusive, premium and reliable sources around the world
  • Categorise the subject matter(s) within the article and determine sentiment
  • Highlight quotes and display the results in an easy-to-read format
  • Accurately recognise and tag entities (people, places, organisations and companies) and topics (any subject our clients want to follow from acquisitions to workplace diversity)

That being said, it’s important that the foundation of the AI is built ethically, with a diverse team of programmers, to ensure it’s free of bias.

At Signal AI, our purpose is to provide our customers with insights into the media, using AI to complete analysis and processing of vast amounts of global textual data including news, spokespeople quotes, online content and marketing materials, as well as academic and legal documentation, patents and regulation.

Digital media literacy is in our DNA. We have a unique vantage point when it comes to using information and technology to find, evaluate, create, then share that information. While we use AI to reduce the burden that the human worker faces while analysing data, the use of that technology itself requires training and updates as time and ethics progress.

In the face of today’s widespread lack of digital media literacy, we need to foster greater self-sufficiency amongst citizens to see fake data for what it is. In doing so, we should allow machines to assist us in better understanding and interpreting news and data, creating stronger literacy, so that they feel empowered to make more fact-based informed decisions.