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In the past few weeks, there have been more and more reports about data breaches and hacks. The biggest recent announcement came from Yahoo, who notified their customers that more than 500 million users may have been impacted by a breach. On a more personal note, my own account was compromised this month when a document was sent to me via a colleague and infiltrated my contact list. The document itself was false, but the design of the email appeared legitimate. All of these incidents implore the question, how are we able to maintain safety and security when it seems so easy to get around the system? More importantly, how do we use critical thinking to consider that information over the internet, social networks and email may not always be so secure? In my own perspective, this is where the value of media literacy education can best be used and observed.

Media literacy education as defined by the National Association for Media Literacy Education as:

“The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication. In its simplest terms, media literacy builds upon the foundation of traditional literacy and offers new forms of reading and writing. Media literacy empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators and active citizens.”

This definition provides us with a structure, whether for educators, adults, or students, to discern and consider how messages are delivered and propagated. Further, it demonstrates that the role of media literacy education in relation to privacy and data is incredibly important.

The framework provided by the Center for Media Literacy presents educators and students with a way for understanding how systematic companies are with obtaining information and how we as consumers need to be responsible participants in this ongoing dynamic. The five key concepts and questions of authorship, format, audience, content and purpose are gateways for a broader discussion on mediated environments.

Privacy, in particular, needs to be analyzed more closely as it relates to education and schools. Further, the concept itself must be defined to those who facilitate learning in the classroom, such as teachers, administrators and superintendents. The action of privacy reinforces why media literacy education is essential and must be taught in school as technology companies continue to introduce ways for which they can invest in schools and garner participation in K-12 and higher education. At the same time, the idea of “free” in education must be reevaluated and critically considered as schools continue to adopt and use various technologies.

Another issue that many educators think about is that they know very little information about laws related to privacy in and outside of schools, especially as technology is changing so quickly. For example, many teachers have heard the terms FERPA or COPPA but don’t know what they mean. Just for clarification, FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The goal of FERPA is to protect the confidentiality of education records. Those records include “any files, documents or other materials that are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution and contain information directly related to a student.” COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, delineates “privacy standards and obligations for online service providers that either target children or knowingly collect personal information from children under the age of 13.”

The concerns expressed here are ongoing and the lessons learned, taught and reiterated must be parts of the growth of the individual consumer young and old. Data encryption, data privacy, student data privacy and digital citizenship will be under consideration from various perspectives moving forward. For educators and for individuals, it will important to watch the development of cybersecurity and privacy issues because they will have consequences in the technologies we use, mobile or otherwise. Further, the cyber impact will be felt whether in the data we obtain or the data that is lost – and how much we are willing to sacrifice as individuals, especially if we are not media literate.


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