Wednesday, 10 August, 2022

Promotion Of Digital Literacy Inevitable

Narayan Prasad Ghimire

Literacy is understood as one's ability to read and write. It is what we are taught in deed. With a growing influence of the information technology, the ability to read and write is not enough for us to cope with present situation. A plethora of digital gadgets and increasing internet connectivity have invited numerous challenges. We are bound to change our behaviour- work, communication, study, travel, campaigning, etc. It has reinforced the need of digital literacy, which is not simply the skill to use digital gadgets as mobile phone and browse websites. But it covers a wider area that helps us become safe and secure in the digital space and exercise our rights on cyber space to the fullest. It is for the promotion of digital hygiene.

Digital security
Digital security is equally important to our physical security. It is therefore essential to ensure digital safety by thwarting ill efforts like cybercrimes. Such crimes are targeted both to an individual and digital device. Character assassination, hate speech, cyber bullying, data theft are targeted to users while data piracy, breach of information system, malware, interception, among others, are against computer system. Despite having numerous benefits and bright sides of internet, the cybercrimes are serious problems for an individual, firm, country and the entire globe. Even the developed countries are forced to spend a huge chunk of budget to foil cybercrimes. The poor countries are evidently at the receiving end of cybercrimes. Now, every state needs to guarantee digital safety to its citizens so that they can live dignified online life. For it, digital literacy is unavoidable.

Digital pollution is another nagging issue these days. As more and more people are migrating to digital public space for exercising their rights, including freedom of expression, trade/business, assembly and protest, and learning, the flow of information has increased sharply. Everyone is finding it hard to separate right information from the flood of information. Separating the right information is like winnowing. It needs the skills gained through digital literacy.

Those with low digital literacy obviously become the victim of fake news. In many cases, the spread of false news is further reinforced with ill intentions by the supporters of political leaders and parties especially during big national events like election and disasters. During COVID-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had announced the 'infodemics' seeing oodle of misinformation relating to coronavirus getting viral globally. The viral misinformation and disinformation have direct impact on people's thoughts. Change in human behavioural pattern is resulted with the influence of disinformation. The digital spaces facilitated by the internet have hugely augmented the volume and velocity of disinformation. This helps flow the false information and pollutes digital space. It is time for us to think of keeping digital environment free from pollution.

The disinformation propelled by social media is regarded as a threat to democracy. Deluge of fake news is sheer dearth and death of truth which jeopardises democratic values and system. Besides, it has been a severe nuisance to many sectors-- journalism, academia, activism, politics, etc. A noted journalist from the Philippines, Maria Ressa, who is also a recipient of this year’s Noble Prize, argues that the social media like Facebook are severe threat to democracy. “On Facebook, a lie told a million times becomes a fact,” Ressa, added.
The disorder created by fake news via social media is also dubbed as 'information disorder'. Editors are forced to 'fact check' the news to ensure accuracy and credibility. A 'fact check desk' has been compulsory at media houses to avoid entry of false news in the newsroom. At a time when even journalists are becoming swayed by misinformation, such 'fact check desk' may help make media cyber aware and digitally safe.

Digital literacy is imperative even for Nepal. Digital literacy must be widespread- from parents, students, teachers, journalists, academia, to political cadres and leaders. Actually, every person who spends time on digital space must be provided digital literacy. First, a common understanding is necessary on digital literacy. Although the definitional problem surfaces on it with the changing nature of information technology, a viable definition of digital literacy is required. A UNESCO document on Digital Literacy defines 'digital literacy' as 'the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. It includes competences that are variously referred to as computer literacy, ICT literacy, information literacy and media literacy.'

Then, the mapping of stakeholders to raise digital awareness and provide digital literacy is needed. With gradual selection of beneficiaries-- students, teachers, political leaders and so on, the orientation class on digital literacy can be organised. With the internet penetration exceeding 100 per cent in Nepal, digital literacy should be government's one of the top priorities. Currently, we have a three-tier government in Nepal with the federal setup. They can create practical contents, select trainers and provide digital awareness to every individual. There is no doubt that another significant area that inculcates formal education on internet and digital space is academia- schools and colleges. Time has come for the curriculum developers and policymakers to include chapters on computer, internet, cyber safety in school and college textbook. Only core technical education on IT does not cater practical education on such pressing issue. Digital literacy is the best tool to guarantee citizen's rights to right information. Digital wellbeing depends on digital literacy.

(Ghimire, who is associated with RSS, is an internet governance enthusiast.)