Improving digital literacy

In my work, I spend some time speaking with clients about digital literacy. Sometimes it means familiarity with web tools some of us take for granted: blogs, RSS, wikis, podcasts. But I also talk about a second level of literacy: how do we develop the deep-rooted ability to judge the authority of what we read online?

Most people, at least most people at senior levels in business or government, grew up with traditional media. We have an immediate understanding of a wide number of signals. Book A is nicely bound, from a “reputable” publisher. Book B is a cheap paperback with raised silver foil lettering on the cover. Book A signals more authority. Newspaper A is sober and great. Newspaper B splashes pictures of cavorting celebrities on its front page. “This is NPR” versus some inane chuckler on morning talk radio. Easy choices.

Of course traditional media have benefited from these signals and still misled and deluded readers and viewers. Examples abound (see Brad DeLong’s railings against “journamalism” passim). Most of us, however, have a good feel for assessing the quality of traditional media.

On the Web, we need to find new bearings. I’ve written before about the ways trust can be developed through blogs in particular. There are always new lessons to be learned. Dan Gillmor has a good one today:

We are far too prone to accepting what we see and hear. We need to readjust our internal BS meters in a media-saturated age.

We should start with this principle:

An anonymous or pseudonymous attack on someone else should be presumed false, unless proved true.

If people started from this perspective, we’d have a much easier time dealing with the You-Tubing of the political class.

I’ll add that to my literacy lessons.

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