Social media and critical users: responding to Buckingham’s four concepts of media literacy

David Buckingham (2003) came up with the four key concepts of media literacy which include language, representation, production and audiences. This discussion is based on the class lecture. We are interested in differences those concepts face in today’s new media environment. How should they be considered when planning the media education including social media skills?

According to Buckingham, media applies a combination of language that consists image, sound and words to create meaning. Media users can understand how the meaning of media message is created by looking at the genre, the choice of the language and the technology used. Representation, on the other hand, is formed when media creates stories by combining incidents, which leads to a particular thinking of the viewer. Media production entails the creation of media texts by individuals or groups. When studying media production one looks at the technology used in creating media texts, who owns the company that does production, who controls the production and how does the media reach its audience. The concept of media audience focuses on how audiences use the media and how they interpret and respond to the media texts.

Buckingham’s view of media literacy was only geared to the audience of the media as receivers of media texts and not senders or producers. The coming of social media, however, has provided an opportunity for people to create their own content reflecting their self-representation, which means that the line between production and audience has become blurred. This aspect was not discussed by Buckingham in his four concepts.

The new media has brought technological convergence, diversity and interactivity compared to the old media. There is a need to the concepts that help in understanding the social media environment and what kind of skills are needed to use it meaningfully. Effective use of social media will be enhanced only if people have knowledge on how they can create, interpret, participate and criticise media content – in other words, how can they be both audience and producers. All of this is in the area of media education.

In his 2010 article “Do we really need Media Education 2.0?” Buckingham discusses the concept of media education and concludes that even though the new media participation and content generation offer new opportunities, they are not always democratic or liberating. According to him media education needs to focus on critical reflection and analysis, and the concept of old as well as new media is important. Considering this statement, we would say that the challenge in today’s media education lies in the ways in which new and old media are possible to combine. This includes understanding the fact that the key concepts of production and audience might sometimes be traditional (companies produce and audiences receive) but in the case of social media they might also overlap (users both produce and receive). Critical thinking is important in both situations, and should therefore be taught in media education.

Students: Aneth Nkeni & Anni Salonen


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