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When it comes to information, abundance doesn’t always mean accessibility

This week, October 24 – 31, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is raising awareness for its tenth annual Global Media and Information Literacy (MIL) Week. A lot has changed since the creation of MIL Week over a decade ago – and even though we have more access to information than ever before, that does not always translate to increased accessibility or equity.

The availability of the internet has opened new doors to make all types of information and opinions more obtainable to many. Not so long ago, information traveled slowly, through storytellers and letters. The messenger had complete control of what information was shared, who it was shared with and how accurate it may be. Now, thanks to the internet, smart phones, social media, podcasts and online forums, individuals have the opportunity to share their own information to the masses instantaneously. This democratization of information sharing has bettered our lives and posed new challenges.

Information can influence how we look at life, including our beliefs and perceptions of reality. It can also drive our daily actions, depending on how much we trust and rely on the information. Just as information can motivate us to positively engage and promote equity and human rights, disinformation can do the opposite. Disinformation and hate speech are swelling into the mainstream and impacting social cohesion.

Equitable and accurate information is more important than ever. When media and information literacy is threatened, human lives are threatened, whether that be from vaccine disinformation that leads to Covid-19 deaths, or hate speech that evokes racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or religious attacks.

As leaders in the fields of communication, policy and social change, we are responsible for ensuring that the information we put out is true and actively promotes values such as equity, diversity and inclusion and never reinforces oppressive systems and stereotypes.

UNESCO’s Five Laws of Media and Information Literacy offers helpful and equity-driven takeaways for communicators to employ in all applications of media and information dissemination. 

Law One 

Information, communication, libraries, media, technology, the Internet as well as other forms of information providers are for use in critical civic engagement and sustainable development. They are equal in stature and none is more relevant than the other or should be ever treated as such. 

Lesson for changemakers: Communicators should treat our work, whether it be an op-ed, social media or blog post with the due diligence and commitment to truth just as an editor, researcher or reporter would. The news cycle moves fast, tempting communicators to respond immediately. But you owe your audience the truth, which sometimes means taking longer to put up a social media post or statement to be sure what you are saying or reacting to is factual. 

Law Two 

Every citizen is a creator of information/knowledge and has a message. They must be empowered to access new information/knowledge and to express themselves. MIL is for all – women and men equally – and a nexus of human rights. 

Lesson for changemakers: For far too long, history has been whitewashed and told from the perspective of white, heterosexual, cisgender males. This is true in our textbooks, boardrooms and communications teams. Even those who are trying to advance equity sometimes fail to allow a seat at the table for people with lived experience to be the storytellers. When considering putting out messaging or a quote about how a law or policy may impact a certain community, seek out voices from that community and center them prominently. 

Law Three 

Information, knowledge, and messages are not always value neutral, or always independent of biases. Any conceptualization, use and application of MIL should make this truth transparent and understandable to all citizens. 

Lesson for changemakers: Bias is a part of human nature. It’s nearly impossible to speak from a truly neutral position, because part of being a human is having uniquely personal experiences that shape you. Opinion-based articles published by you or your organization should always disclose that personal perspective.

Law Four 

Every citizen wants to know and understand new information, knowledge and messages as well as to communicate, even if she/he is not aware, admits or expresses that he/she does. Her/his rights must however never be compromised. 

Lesson for changemakers: Despite information being more widely available, it is not always accessible. As communicators, there are many ways to make sure every individual of every ability and understanding level has fair access to your writings and research. All websites, social media posts, and blog posts should be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Beyond this, you can consider tactics in your writing that do not gatekeep information based on knowledge. Simple things like avoiding jargon, or creating topline, high-level versions of technical research can allow for new audiences to comprehend the information you share.

Law Five 

Media and information literacy is not acquired at once. It is a lived and dynamic experience and process. It is complete when it includes knowledge, skills and attitudes, when it covers access, evaluation/assessment, use, production and communication of information, media and technology content.

Lesson for changemakers: Media and information literacy requires continuous learning, questioning and improving. Outlets for spreading information are constantly evolving, and we can always improve ourselves as messengers for the better by keeping in mind that, “media and information literacy for all should be seen as a nexus of human rights.” [Source]

As communicators, we must recognize our influence and use it for good. By incorporating the Five Laws of Media and Information Literacy into our daily communications strategies, we can help ensure the truth is not only honest and equitable, but also accessible to all. 


This entry was posted on Monday, October 25, 2021 at 09:36 am and is filed under Combating disinformation, Crisis communication, Digital strategy and Media relations. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.