A story of media literacy: Cultural identity construction

 
A write up by Claudia Dimitriadis on Cinekid's Media Literacy Seminar 2016 powered by Mediawijzer.net. 
 
Last October 20th, an audience of educators, producers of educational content and media makers gathered in Amsterdam for the annual, international Media Literacy Seminar hosted by Cinekid and Mediawijzer.net. This year’s theme - Cultural identity construction - addressed the need and existence of ways to help young people understand and contextualise media messages in this media saturated world. A world where media plays a big role in our own cultures and that of others.
 
During the seminar, tools were presented that can help interpret media messsages and  the audience was given an understanding of how youngsters are constructing their own (cultural) identities using (online) media.  
 
David Kleeman
 
 
Moderator of the evening David Kleeman kicked off the seminar by sharing some personal anecdotes about how he was inspired by the Danish national television broadcaster: "When a child wakes up in the morning, how do they know where they are?’’. It is important to show children diversity in television programmes. ‘’I want children to know they grow up on equal dignity even when there are unequal circumstances.’’ So they made documentaries about children in third world countries, to show children that it’s possible to grow up in very different ways.
 
Young people today are immersed in (multi)media and media makers have the responsibility to teach them how to interpret certain content and how to understand and evaluate the story. Virtual Reality is an example of a tool that can provide a new perspective of the world, enabling reflection. We can use media to create a better understanding of the world around us.
 
John Leek
 
On behalf of Mediawijzer.net, the Dutch center of expertise for media literacy, John Leek spoke about the refuge crisis in the EU and online hate speech, radicalisation and the ‘filter bubble of information’. The personalisation of online information influences the construction of opinions, possibly leading to a narrowed view on this information among young people. Critical thinking skills and creating skills should thus be encouraged, with media literacy being the overarching skill. Examples of initiatives that encourage these skills are the Dutch ‘Media Literacy Week’ (Week van de Mediawijsheid) in November which revolves around the theme ‘Fact, Fake or Filter: How are you being influenced?’.
 
The MediaMasters Game, an interactive media literacy game for primary schools, is an example of children working on all sorts of media assignments and learning these skills in an interactive and creative way. A way of creating better understanding, also among parents, is by visiting the ‘Let’s YouTube’ exhibition in Beeld en Geluid. John Leek concluded his talk by pointing out: ‘’Deeper understanding of the power of media is now more than ever a necessity in the upbringing of our children. It is our common duty to create a suitable media playing field for years to come. And all of us in this room today are responsible for that’’.
 
Nathalie Bank
 
Nathalie Bank, Cyber Influence Warfare researcher at the Dutch Defense Academy, University of Utrecht and TNO, taught the audience about the Islamic State’s online strategy. Most of the messages they use are professionally manufactured (they even have a so called minister of Media), thought through and framed. Even though we are not in the battlefield ourselves, we all think, read or fear (about) this conflict. These ideology-driven people use media not only for radicalisation but also - and maybe mainly - for spreading their ideas through the media, to broaden the horizon of this war. The conflict is no longer in one geographical place. ‘’I say to you: that we are in a battle and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.’’ (Cited from a letter from one important war leader from El Qaida to another).
 
Powerful examples 
 
What makes IS so powerful in the online media? In this online battlefield the advantage of a non-state actor (Islamic State) versus a state (government) is that they can be quick and dirty and don’t have laws and penalties when they cross a line. Besides, the messages they spread are too many. Their massages are constructed. Although they disapprove of the western culture, they do use the trends and hashtags ‘we’ use. They also include heroism narratives, with Call of Duty images for example. They use stories of inclusions and first person shooters. ‘’If you control the message, you don’t have to control the army’’.  
 
 
We shouldn’t teach kids what to think, but how to think.
 
Islamic State wants to establish fear, for example with the attacks in Paris last year. The people that were killed there, are used as a ‘medium’ to reach their targets, namely: the rest of the world that is watching in fear and shock. Instead of showing our fear or sadness (e.g. by changing our Facebook pictures to the French flag), we should do something to learn more. Because us not knowing is key for them. Conversation and curiosity should be encouraged, to learn what is going to happen. We are the actors and targets at the same time and IS wants us to be the real victims of media wars. Asking questions and using storytelling are solutions in this media war - online and offline life are as one.
 
The questions to ask
 
What are the media literacy questions in the war of media?
-who is the creator?
-what is the intent?
-what techniques are used to attract attention?
-which ideologies are represented?
-what is the omitted?
-how might people understand this differently from me?
 
What tactics can media literacy educators use against the media war?
 
-core questioning
-close reading
-creating dialogue
-creating content
-asking: so what and what now?
 
After war becomes peace
 
Luckily, the internet is not only a place for conflicts and war, but also a great place where young people can create their own (online) media, and communicate their own identities using media. Hannah Higginson, Engagement producer at Watershed and Mthoba Chapi, Director at Vuselela-Media NPC in Johannesburg gave examples of tools they provide to reach or represent a diverse range of cultural identities out there - something that mainstream media cannot always offer. Both Watershed in Bristol (UK) and Vuselela Media in South Africa are engaging young and diverse communities, providing them with tools to be content creators themselves and to express their own identities within media.
 
Try, fail and play
 
 
Watershed developed RIFE magazine, an online youth magazine made by the young people of Bristol for the young people in Bristol. Jasmine Thompson shared her story with the audience. Thompson is an illustrator and content creator for RIFE. In her content she explores race, integration and cultural identity issues. Creating your own online channels is now easier than ever before and young people are increasingly becoming successful media makers themselves. This gives them the opportunity to communicate their identities and learn more about each other. In this way, they can share content (blogs, vlogs, pictures, drawings, stories and so on) that is underrepresented in mainstream (mass) media. By trying, failing and playing with digital media, young people learn important (digital media) skills.
 
UK versus South Africa
 
 
From the professional and modern techniques the youngsters use in UK, we move to different techniques in South Africa that express the same idea. Bona Retsang is a youth magazine television show, produced by Vuselela Media, that has broadcasted on SABC 1 in South Africa since 2013. It is a platform that brings to light young people’s daily challenges across South Africa. The first two seasons involved content produced by young video producers from marginalized communities that were trained by the Vuselela Media Academy in storytelling, camerawork and video editing. It is great to see how the teenagers in Johannesburg get the chance to make their own reports, to feel like journalists and that their news items are even covered in the television broadcast news.
 
Picture this: time to workshop 
 
 
Florine Wiebenga, Head of Education at EYE Film Institute, made the audience aware of the benefits of mobile storytelling and organised a workshop then and there. How can images be manipulated by putting them in a certain order and telling a certain story? And what does that mean? The room was split up into groups, each one working on their own story. All participants chose a picture from their smartphone and were instructed to make a storyboard of all the pictures together. A great way to have people think about perspective, consensus, creativity and your picture being part of a bigger story.