Towards safer online spaces

One in three women in India have ever used the internet (33%), compared to more than half of men (57%).

Let’s stop to think about this.

In our time, digital media and information literacy is a fundamental right that should be granted to everyone, regardless of gender, caste, religion, culture or economic background. This does not only involve access to digital infrastructure, devices and media tools, but also the provision of education and training to develop skills on how best to use these tools and how to protect against line damage.

The digital world is becoming increasingly important as a space for expression and community building. Online content creation, graphic design, photography and social media management are skills highly valued by employers. Potential employees present the social media presence as a way to showcase the work they have done as well as demonstrate their content management skills. Unfortunately, skills are not improving at the same rate as the proliferation of digital devices. This has led many young people to find themselves ill-equipped for the misinformation and misrepresentation we currently face. These skills are essential if young people are to navigate the web effectively and make it relevant to everyday life.

I recently attended an event organized by Ideosync Media Combine – a social change communication organization working in India and South Asia – where the organization showcased Free/Dem, their flagship program which works to empower of women and girls in and around the outskirts of Delhi. urban areas through hyper-local Digital Media Information Literacy Pathshalas.

The event took place at the India Habitat Center on June 15 and brought together members of various civil society organizations such as Internet Freedom Foundation, Shakti Shalini, Action India, Plan India, Khoj International and UN Women. The meeting was an opportunity to discuss concrete actions to recognize the importance and champion digital literacy for young adults – especially those who are otherwise discriminated against and often overlooked when we discuss digital development.

Women must fight harder to access their digital rights. Some of the girls who were part of the program spoke about their experiences, explaining how social media became a matter of social status. The girls said they were trolled and faced inappropriate comments on their posts. Through the Free/Dem Media Pathsahala sessions, they learned how to use various settings on their devices to block and report spam comments. They also learned the importance of verifying their information, how to create podcasts and short films, and how to act as advocates for better digital education in their locality. As Free/Dem intern Swati said, “The program not only empowered me, it helped me teach and empower the women around me. »

Men seem to be preferred over women when it comes to accessing and owning digital devices. As a result, many women from economically and socially marginalized identities live without digital empowerment. Many women in the program said they share digital devices with family members. Even those who learn digital skills are not immune to criticism and censure from their families and communities. Many interns have described being criticized by their families for “inappropriate” clothing in photos they posted online. Those who wanted to challenge their society’s norms through social media and other multimedia products had an uphill battle.

Students are often the most vulnerable. A full D-MIL curriculum is currently not part of the school curriculum in India. However, the pandemic has brought students online. This forces students to rely on peers and self-learning tactics to develop their digital persona.

As education becomes more and more accessible in our country (the literacy rate increased by 5.07% between 2011 and 2018 alone), the school curriculum is the most practical way to promote media literacy. and develop digital skills. Not only will these programs allow students to develop essential digital skills that will be of great use to them, but they will also provide them with a platform where they can express their opinions, concerns and their own solutions through various multimedia products.

It should also be noted that the digital space, however carefully introduced, makes people vulnerable to discrimination and prejudice. There were 14,02,809 reported cases of cyber crimes in India in 2021 and 2,12,485 reported cases in the first two months of 2022 alone. Exposure to cyberbullying and hate speech drives many young adults to self-censor online.

At the meeting, teachers and parents raised issues such as the impact of the increased time students spend online. It’s critical to ask now if providing students with the resources to learn digital skills will provide them with an excuse to spend unhealthy time on their devices.

Many students who participated in the D-MIL program at Delhi Government Schools of Excellence said that before the program, they used their phones and laptops to chat with friends or surf content on services like as YouTube and TikTok, as well as other social media sites. They reported that after the program they realized they could do so much more – take photos, record audio, edit programs and short films, use them for research, design their own content and, above all, verify information that they would otherwise believe. blindly.

As one of the students said, “After the D-MIL program, I started thinking my phone was powerful.”

Digital media and information literacy training can make a big difference in the lives of so many people, especially those from disadvantaged or marginalized backgrounds. It can help them find a platform to voice their opinions, share their stories, and discuss issues that affect us all. It can help them gain exposure and give them opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. It may be the bridge that bridges the communication technology gap and helps everyone move forward in this brave new digital world. However, without a complete mastery of digital media information, many will be ill-prepared.

Nethra Ramakrishnan is a class 10 student.

Feature image: Rodion Kutsaev / Unsplash

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