Palace of Westminster

Disinformation and digital literacy: proposals from Parliament

An interim report on disinformation and fake news by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee was published on July 24th, 2018.

Stéphane Goldstein, Advocacy and Outreach Officer of the CILIP Information Literacy Group, has provided his initial reflections on the report’s relevance to the digital literacy agenda in an InformAll blog post, which he has kindly given us permission to reproduce here.

A few days ago, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee published its long-awaited preliminary report on disinformation and fake news. This follows from a lengthy inquiry (to which InformAll and the CILIP Information Literacy Group made a submission) that has been running for a year and a half. I have reported on this on previous occasions, here and here.

At 89 pages, this is a longish report, much of it made up of attention-grabbing content addressing topical and controversial issues such as data targeting in election/referendum campaigns and Russian interference in the electoral process. Not surprisingly, it is these matters that have caught the headlines since the report’s publication. However, somewhat buried at the back, there is a chapter on what the document terms “digital literacy” – which, in this instance and to a large extent, equates to information literacy. The chapter, which focuses heavily on social media, states at the outset that “Children, young adults, and adults—all users of digital media—need to be equipped in general with sufficient digital literacy, to be able to understand content on the Internet, and to work out what is accurate or trustworthy, and what is not”. This statement is important and recognises the place that critical thinking must play in people’s consumption and interpretation of online information.

The report goes on to recommend that, as an integral part of the school curriculum, digital literacy should become the fourth pillar of the education process, alongside reading, writing and maths. This should form part of what is described as a unified approach to digital literacy, involving the two Government Departments with the closest interest in this area (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – DCMS; and Department for Education – DfE) along with key players such as the PSHE Association [1]. The report is short on detail about how to move the curriculum in this direction, but calls upon the Government to put forward proposals on financing a comprehensive educational framework to be developed by charities and non-governmental organisations. Should this suggestion be adopted, I express the hope that librarians and information professionals will contribute to the elaboration of such a framework.

It is good that such an authoritative publication recognises digital literacy and the part that it can play in addressing disinformation. A second report is expected in October 2018, although it’s not entirely clear yet what this will cover, or whether it will expand on what the preliminary report says about digital literacy. I suggest that anyone interested keeps in touch with developments on the Committee’s webpage. I should stress that, however influential, a parliamentary committee can only suggest and recommend. It is up to Government to implement, perhaps in the first instance through the medium of a White Paper which would set out its intentions. The recent creation, within DCMS, of a team dedicated to addressing the challenge of disinformation is at least a sign of good intent.

[1] For the uninitiated, the PSHE Association represents education professionals supporting physical, social, health and economic education; this is the part of the school curriculum which also includes digital skills and digital literacy.

Read the full interim report by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the findings of the interim report. You can leave your comments below.

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