Early education on digital literacy important to produce responsible social media users

KUALA TERENGGANU, May 22: Early education on digital literacy that emphasizes conduct and ethics in the use of social media should be introduced starting at the school level to produce responsible social media users. 

A senior journalism lecturer at the Centre for Communication Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM),  Dr Rani Ann Balaraman said this was important as the emergence of new media including various social media platforms, involved not only adults but also children.

“This (social media) is our life now, so the ethics of its use must be taught to our children because, in the world of science and technology,  children also have their own mobile phones and are active in social media,” she said.

Rani Ann, also involved in the production of the new version of the Malaysian Code of Ethics for Journalists which was launched by the Ministry of Communications on Feb 20 this year, also suggested that the government implement an education programme for influencers or citizen journalists, to ensure the content they produced are ethical and help their followers become smart social media users.

She said the term citizen journalists may sound foreign to some but by definition, it is something common and describes almost all social media users.

According to her, there are two types of citizen journalists, namely institutional citizen journalists and non-institutional journalists. 

She said institutional citizen journalists are those working under a company and are free to write, but the news or articles will go through the editors before they are published.

“The danger now is the non-institutional citizen journalists, that is, those who disseminate information and then disappear,” she said.

 Rani Ann said that citizen journalists sometimes produce senseless reports, for example taking photos of victims of road accidents and then uploading them on social media without thinking about the sensitivity of the families of the victims.

She cited a case of a man who was fined RM23,000 by the Taiping Sessions Court in Perak for uploading an offensive comment regarding the Royal Malaysian Navy (RLDM) helicopter crash in Lumut which killed 10 members last month.

The amount of the fine imposed gives a clear message about the government’s seriousness in curbing unethical actions on social media, she said, adding that it also sent a message to the people not to post or do citizen journalism as they please.

“The action by the government sends a message to the public not to post or engage in citizen journalism arbitrarily without common sense.

“It is hoped that, besides focusing on the 3R issues (race, religion, and ruler), the government will also pay attention to other issues occurring on social media, particularly those involving individual privacy,” she said.

Themed Etika Teras Kewartawanan Mapan, the National Journalists’ Day (HAWANA) 2024 celebration will be held from May 25 to 27 in Kuching, Sarawak, with the highlight of the event is the opening ceremony by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on May 27. 

More than 800 media practitioners including those from neighbouring countries have been invited to attend the event, organised by the Ministry of Communications in collaboration with the Sarawak government. The Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) is the implementing agency.