“We must step out of our tendency to armchair-theorize about how social media affects us

and develop a rigorous scientific understanding of how it works.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            -Sinan Aral, MIT



All attempts to create a utopia invariably lead to a dystopia.  Even while we bask in the glow of new communication technology, we begin to see the darker dystopian strands emerge.  New methods of communication have arrived with diverse practical and ethical challenges. Trying to battle the damage done by echo chambers, created by multiple algorithms programmed to increase engagement, for example, can be likened to battling a multi-headed behemoth. Many strive to battle with one head of this gangly technological beast, only to be bitten by another.  Solutions which do succeed, do not have lasting effect as algorithms quickly adapt.  We can no longer make a significant difference at the head, we must go to the source. We need a shift in the base of this paradigm, one which will have lasting effect.  This can be done through education.


A 2019 survey done by Statista indicated that American do not currently possess the necessary skills to act with discernment online, in fact Americans were outright given a failing grade. (Figure 1)  Many educators are working towards increasing the digital literacy of their students. Yet it isn’t easy. Students are often overconfident, thinking they understand the intricacies of digital literacy, when in fact they know how to use software on their cell phone or laptop and no clue how to discern fact from fiction. “True digital literacy consists of skills, knowledge and understanding that enable critical, creative, discerning and safe practices with digital technologies” (Hague & Payton, 2011) Educators must persist in this initiative and cannot take for granted that youth are well versed in digital literacy simply because they can use social media platforms and navigate through software with no assistance, notes Dr. Felicia Bolden, an elementary school principle. (Bolden, 2019). “The classroom itself is becoming a much more fluid and flexible concept. We should expect that the classroom of the future will increasingly focus on application and problem-solving with materials rapidly being updated and easily accessible through technology” notes Dr. Lenton, the President of York University. (Passey et al., 2018) 

The ultimate goal for all people is to move beyond digital skills, and digital literacy and become competent and then finally digitally autonomous, fully confident and accountable for all actions. (see Figure 1) (Passey et al., 2018)  There are challenges to be overcome to achieve this. Schools, need to ensure they look at the larger picture when building curriculum and ensure digital skills are taught in tandem with digital literacy practices. In addition, the level of digital literacy of the teacher must increase; a basic level of technical proficiency is no longer enough; digital training for teachers now needs to be rigorous for teachers are role-models. (Passey et al., 2018)  Luckily, there are now many new software packages emerging internationally which address the need for digital literacy for both young and adult learners.


Jules  In Singapore, Jules provides simulated training, analytics dashboards, and gamification practices to help children build computer literacy skills

Gaptain A Spanish startup that startup conducts an audit of children’s digital activity and designs education sessions targeting identified problems

TANu  A French assessment program covers everyday topics such as the internet and social media behavior, technological awareness, e-business knowledge, and data processing skills and then remediates workers with L’Ecole, a software aimed at filling in the gaps of knowledge. (Startus Insights, 2020)


Many universities have recognized the need for reform and have attacked the problem from a different standpoint.. Embedded EthiCS, developed by Harvard University, integrates ethics modules into courses across the standard computer science curriculum. Recognizing that today’s computer scientists must design software and systems which are morally and socially responsible, Harvard professors started a collaborative effort between the philosophy and the computer science departments to teach students to consider not merely what technologies they could create, but whether they should create them. (Harvard, 2020) All computer science classes at Harvard now have an Embedded Ethics section of the curriculum which works by embedding philosophers into courses to teach a module that explores an ethical issue that the course material raises. (Harvard 2020)  It has proven very successful and has now been adopted by Stanford, MIT and many other prestigious universities throughout the United States.

MIT and Yale have also invented some interesting software to help breakdown the walls of the echo chambers.  Yale invented a Google Chrome extension called Escape Your Bubble which presents alternative articles to the ones normally viewed by algorithm settings.  MIT created Flipfeed, a plug-in which allows users to switch to different random, ideologically different feeds.  It is very difficult to get someone to leave their echo chamber, but if we introduce these kinds of programs to students at a young age as a part of the curriculum to increase digital literacy, they could be used to great effect.


The solution to this is not easy and it will not be quick.  We cannot deal in easy fixes and call it good.  These are just band-aids on a cancer.  We have developed magnificent technology, but we need now to learn to steer it in a positive direction.  We need to increase the digital literacy of people of all ages, so they can receive accurate information and make informed decisions to steer our country accordingly.



Bolden, F. (2021, February 24). Technology in the Classroom: What is Digital literacy? TeachHUB. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://www.teachhub.com/technology-in-the-classroom/2019/10/technology-in-the-classroom-what-is-digital-literacy

Embedded ethics. Embedded EthiCS. (2020). Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://embeddedethics.seas.harvard.edu

Hague, C. & Payton, S. (2011). Digital literacy across the curriculum: A futurelab handbook. Available at: http://archive.futurelab.org.uk/resources/publications-reports-articles/handbooks/Handbook1706.

Discover 5 top digital literacy solutions: Startus insights research. StartUs Insights. (2020, December 4). Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.startus-insights.com/innovators-guide/discover-5-top-digital-literacy-solutions

Passey, D., Shonfeld, M., Appleby, L. et al. Digital Agency: Empowering Equity in and through Education. Tech Know Learn 23, 425–439 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-018-9384-x