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Media literacy as essential: Youth media, social justice, and civic participation

Updated: May 24, 2020

Parents, teachers, and other youth educators should be intentional about incorporating social justice, critical thinking, and civic engagement into media literacy education. Connecting media literacy to the ethical, social, and critical aspects of information societies is an essential aspect of active digital citizenship.

With rising misinformation, political partisanship, economic inequalities, and global climate change, media literacy can and should empower and support citizens’ engagement in terms of using media messages for civic participation and for furthering social justice issues.

Media, both news and fiction, shape young people’s beliefs about various groups that they belong to (and indeed, those that they do not belong to). Media stories influence identity development, social learning, intergroup relations, and cultural norms. Therefore, it is important to use media wisely for both individual use as well as broader civic participation. We offer several guidelines to educators on how to do this in our article on Social Group Stories in the Media and Child Development published in the journal Pediatrics. These guidelines are:

Educators need to invest in media literacy initiatives and curricula and to collaborate with NGOs working for social justice. They should talk to children and teens about how the stories they see tell them who they are and help them to understand where the stories came from and what their own role is in determining their destiny. Understand that the content and the frequency of exposure matters in children’s development. Find counter-stereotypes and make sure children are exposed to these. Open a dialogue with them about their perspectives. Finally, listen and learn from your children’s perspectives. (p.160).

Anti-racism protestors (Photo by Henry Be)

In our recent book chapter published this month on “Civic Engagement, Social Justice, and Media Literacy,” in Media Literacy in a Disruptive Media Environment, we talk about how media literacy’s full potential cannot be expressed unless the transformative power of digital new media is channelized towards social justice purposes and used to build civic agency.

With the global COVID-19 pandemic, parents could encourage older kids in their families to use their media literacy skills for social good to serve their communities. They could, for instance, write letters to elderly citizens in their neighborhoods or use their media literacy skills to conduct online fundraisers for local food banks during the summer break. Apart from media literacy skills, these opportunities teach our kids about digital citizenship, community engagement, empathy, and collective healing.

As part of Media Rise, an initiative to promote meaningful media, we host a day-long youth media festival called Youth Media Rise. We host critical media literacy workshops for high school students, parents, and educators, especially those marginalized due to race and social class, to learn ways to use media, art, design, and storytelling effectively for social justice, environmental sustainability, and peace.

To read all the chapters of the book, please go to: Media Literacy in Disruptive Media Environment


Ramasubramanian, S. & Darzabi, R. (2020). Civic engagement, social justice, and media literacy. In Media Literacy in a Disruptive Media Environment. Edited by Bill Christ, Michelle Lipkin, and Belinha De Abreu, Routledge.


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