Media Literacy and Internet Governance: A necessary marriage, exemplified by the case of the Belgian State versus Facebook

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


In recent years media literacy has gained in importance both in academic debates as in policy discussions. Several countries such as the UK, Finland, the Netherlands, Flanders/Belgium, have integrated media literacy into their media or/and educational policies. Multiple countries have set up new institutions or given older institutions the mandate to actively foster media literacy—e.g. respectively Ofcom (UK) and (the Netherlands), (Flanders/Belgium). At the EU level Media Literacy has been integrated into the 2007 Audiovisual Media Service Directive. The Directive states that ‘(...) the development of media literacy in all sections of society should be promoted and its progress followed closely’ (European Commission, 2007). Whether the revision of the Directive in 2016 will result in a stronger focus on media literacy remains to be seen. At least the Paris Declaration on Promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education —as a direct reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris—re-emphasizes the role of media literacy, in particular in ‘developing resistance to all forms of discrimination and indoctrination’ (Ministers of Education, 2015). At the international level UNESCO has rediscovered the importance of Media and Information Literacy. Under the banner of GAPMIL, the Global Alliance for Partnerships on Media and Information Literacy, it is driving new initiatives on different continents. The renewed interest in media literacy is the result of a couple of factors. First, the digitization of media and the advent of the Internet have lead to an abundance of choice in terms of content, which is much more difficult to navigate and assess. Second, the internet and social media more specifically have turned all users into potentially active producers of communication and content (Hoechsmann & Poyntz, 2012). Third, governments all over the world have largely deregulated media and increasingly rely on self-regulation and co-regulation by the media and on the Internet (Marsden, ...). The result of these evolution is that the individual is more and more expected to regulate it’s own use and that of other—often minor—members of his/her family. However, many user studies on Internet use, media use, online privacy, etc. show that not all users have the necessary skills and competences to self-regulate, hence the importance of media literacy. The shift from regulation by government to self-regulation by the individual sounds straightforward. However, this reasoning depends on two fundamental preconditions: 1) that all individuals obtain—with support of media literacy actions—the necessary capabilities to critically engage with media, 2) that the individual has the choice to act on the acquired knowledge. In this article we would like to argue that in the current internet environment this choice to act is often lacking. What is even more, a lack of transparency on how the internet and actors on the internet—such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn— operate leads to a basic distrust about the use of technology and the use of the internet and digital media. This is certainly the case in relation to privacy. A lack of choice, transparency and trust currently has a couple of consequences: 1) media literacy at the internet level currently requires very high levels of internet and computer understanding, especially in relation to privacy protection, 2) it leads to funny and partially ineffective defense strategies such as covering webcams (very effective), using different browsers for trusted and untrusted websites (more questionable), etc., 3) a growing disinterest and disbelief in the possibility of self-regulation. A recent US study reveals that users who have high levels of understanding of online privacy, are more and more tempted to give up their privacy in the realization that they cannot protect themselves. This paper will further develop the argumentation presented above. It will apply this to the current case of the Flemish Privacy Commission versus Facebook in Belgium. (explain). What is clear is that in absence of genuine choice, transparency and trust media literacy becomes a fake proposition. Especially for those interpretations of media literacy that believe in the empowerment possibilities of the Internet.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2016
EventICA 2016: Preconference: Power, communication, and technology in internet governance - Kanazawa Institute of Technology (Tokyo campus), Fukuoka, Japan
Duration: 8 Jun 20168 Jun 2016


ConferenceICA 2016
Internet address


  • media literacy
  • internet governance
  • privacy
  • Facebook


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