Does Social Media make you Illiterate?

Social media is not bad for you, embrace technology, and equally keep enjoying literature and offline communications. I write this in response to various articles pointing out the problems with social media. Let’s take a while in this article to look at what social media is, what’s good and bad about it, and separately but related: literacy in the digital age. Wikipedia defines Social media ascomputer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.” What strikes me with this definition is the absence of any reference to “literature”. So, does social media make you illiterate? I’d suggest not. But let me point out some challenges and opportunities with media, literature and changing reading habits.

Social Media is Bad for Literacy Articles

A survey of 214 secondary school heads found that 70 per cent believe Facebook and Twitter are “bad for literacy”. Daily Mail 15th November 2013. A recent excellent and wide-ranging article by Mike Wide journalist for The Times, on social media and literature referred to the fact that Howard Jacobson “Booker prize-winning novelist has warned that children will be illiterate within a generation because of social media such as Twitter.” And he himself “craved interruption” due to a combination of smartphones and social media. In Scotland, a survey in May revealed a steep fall in writing standards among 13-year-olds over the past five years, with less than half performing well or very well at writing. Wade also points out the percentage of American adults who read literature — any novels, short stories, poetry or plays — fell to at least a three-decade low last year, according to a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts.

How Social Media Can Benefit Your Business

I’d suggest benefits of social media for business include:

  • Increase Brand Recognition
  • Showcase Your Customer Service Efforts
  • Increase Traffic to Your Website
  • Build a Community of Dedicated Followers
  • Decrease Your Marketing Costs
  • Give You Valuable Information About Your Audience
  • Increase Loyalty to Your Brand
  • Establish Your Authority.

I could go on…and our o i solutions Digital page gives myriad sites and examples of fantastic, innovative tools and sites in the social media and tech world that can benefit your business.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media for People More Widely

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media for Society are listed by techmaish here. The advantages for children are confidently listed by Digital Review including helping to make children confident, friendly, connected, smart, informed, helpful, relaxed and feeling welcome. But risks are well documented by many. And very notably in this Clinical Report−The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, Kathleen Clarke-Pearson and COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA which says, “Using social media becomes a risk to adolescents more often than most adults realise. Most risks fall into the following categories: peer-to-peer; inappropriate content; lack of understanding of online privacy issues; and outside influences of third-party advertising groups” and lists concerns including cyberbullying, online harassment, Facebook depression and sexting. The USA responded with The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), it is a United States federal law. The act, effective April 21, 2000, applies to the online collection of personal information by persons or entities under U.S. jurisdiction about children under 13 years of age. It details what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing of those under. When asking does social media make you illiterate? Or is it damaging, the USA is surely the place to look at as leader, first mover and producer of most things in the social media space.

Fake News Another Problem Linked to Social Media

There’s a useful article in The Daily Telegraph tracing the history of fake news, emphasising that it was the introduction of social media which really started it from circa 2007. Although one might point to Second World War propaganda as early precursors.

Can News Literacy Be Taught?

The article  by Niemen Reports, discusses the importance of news literacy courses in the U.S. universities and colleges. According to a Stanford University study, most middle school, high school and college students were functional news illiterates. Sam Wineburg, lead author of the study, stated that most students are completely unprepared to be responsible news consumers in the Internet age. In response to this problem, some universities and colleges included news literacy course elements in their curriculum.

A Possible Solution, Embrace Information, e-literacy and Media Literacy

Witek Donna writes that perhaps the biggest recent shift in how information is produced, accessed, and used is the multiplication of information formats that now exist as a result of advances in computing technology.   Ralph Raab writes: “A 2007 study showed that frequent television viewing during adolescence caused attention deficiencies…You must be functionally literate in order to use the internet. This has led to a phenomenon called e-literacy. When parents and teachers criticize the amount of time kids spend online, they’re forgetting that you have to be literate to use the internet effectively. ” American Libraries. Aug2010, Vol. 41 Issue 8, p34-37. 4p.

Filtering Out Fake News: It All Starts With Media Literacy

This issue is at the heart of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE; namle .net). NAMLE’s executive director, Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, recently said “every step of the [Media] chain from content creator to social media platform to user must be held more accountable.” She supports a rating system of news outlets based on a number of factors (source material, credentials, bias, factchecking, etc.) to make the lines of fact versus fiction less blurred. Another point she stresses is the need for people to understand the difference between researched journalism and opinion and commentary. Media outlets, she says, must be clear about these differences. Lipkin feels that Facebook has always been a media company. Lipkin is emphatic that media literacy must be taught from the earliest grades. As Lipkin so aptly puts it, “We need to embrace technology and media literacy and empower students to use it. We need to stop trying to protect kids and start preparing them.”


I think the final sentence of the preceding paragraph says it all; in particular “embrace technology”. Social media is just a tool, it’s pervasive and at its worst distracting and petty. But why not enjoy it alongside longer form literature, and enrich the media and communications landscape? I love it.

Peter Eales BA Hons Chartered Marketer FCIM FIDM
Founder Director Dorset Business Angels
MD o i solutions limited

Posted in Blog.