Rising social media consumption sparks call for media literacy education in the country

More and more people rely on social media for information, more than ever before. Students in the country are not taught media literacy subjects in schools and colleges anymore. With rising cases of misinformation, disinformation, malinformation, and deep fakes online, Civil Society Organisations and private companies are pushing for a joint effort to teach people about media literacy.

A Bhutan Media Foundation, BMF, study found that Bhutanese spend an average of almost three hours a day on social media. The figure is slightly higher than the estimated global average.

The BMF’s executive director, Needrup Zangpo, says for Bhutan, media literacy is crucial as information and media content online are increasing rapidly and like never before.

“Media literacy is critical to society because the more media literate a society is, the more they can analyse, evaluate, create, and consume media content, and the more they can analyse and evaluate media content, the better decisions they will be able to make. The better decision they can take, the happier the society becomes.”

The challenge of countering misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation is made even harder by the increasing use of artificial intelligence and deep fake technology.

Nyingnor Data, a digital marketing company’s CEO, Phub Dorji, suggests that media literacy should now include digital literacy and AI literacy to address this challenge effectively.

“Till now media illiteracy has not been that much of a problem because the difference between real and fake has been different. With the age of AI now we are entering a time where the difference between real and unreal is slipping. Towards the end of the last election campaign, we saw people on social media generating a lot of images using AI. As Bhutan enters this age, it becomes even more important to bring in media literacy.”

The Bhutan Media Foundation says that the limited reach of organisations conducting media literacy campaigns is a major hurdle.

“Few organizations like Bhutan Media Foundation do media literacy regularly but our reach is very small. We also need targeted media literacy, meaning we need media literacy for illiterate and semi-literate villagers of youth including high school and college students, working professionals including Members of Parliament. Currently, our reach is very small. For example, we can reach only a few villages in a year,” added BMF’s executive director.

Schools do not have a media literacy curriculum. However, students from pre-primary to XII are taught an ICT curriculum.

Officials from the Ministry of Education and Skills Development say that while the ICT curriculum may not entirely cover media literacy content, it helps students become responsible digital citizens. They are taught about the responsible, ethical, and safe use of ICT.

CSOs and private firms are calling for a collaborative strategy to foster media and AI literacy in the country.

“I think solving this issue of illiteracy, and media illiteracy must be a joint venture as well. There are things that a government can do and there are things that non-governmental CSOs and private entities like mine can do,” added Phub Dorji, Chief Executive Officer of Nyingnor Data.

According to the BMF’s social media landscape study, Facebook, WeChat, and YouTube are the most popular social media platforms in the country.

The study also shows that about 90 per cent of Bhutanese are active users of at least one social media platform, which further emphasises the need for media literacy.

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