The Age of #DigitalLiteracy and the Media Revolution

By Pat Shelly


Where do you get most of your news of the world?
What are skills needed for digital literacy?
Do you use social media for any part of your school or professional work?
Will universal digital literacy lead to world peace?



The Age of Digital Literacy is Now


The University at Buffalo observed the 2016 International Education Week with lectures, film, student events, exhibits and a keynote: “The Media Revolution: What it Means for You” by Geneva Overholser.


She has worked as an editor, ombudsperson, journalist at many top papers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. She lived in and wrote from Paris and Kinshasa over a period of five years.


Overholser spoke of the radical change from traditional, or “legacy” media – newspapers, radio, network television, cable TV – to new media technologies. These include social networking, instant messaging, blogs (coined from “web” and “log”), internet video (YouTube), digital media sites (Vice, Vox, Gawker), radio podcasts, political news outlets (Politico, Democracy Now!), social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr). All are accessible from the palm of the hand through smart phones and other mobile devices.


The cost of such technology is becoming less and less expensive. One survey she cited found that Africa is leading the world in the rate of  adoption of mobile internet use.


Photo credit: Kainan Guo, The Spectrum

Photo credit: Kainan Guo, The Spectrum

Ms. Overholser spoke to the necessity of being literate in this new realm of media. “[N]ow, thanks to new technology, EVERYBODY owns a press.” We are our own reporter, editor, and publisher. “… thanks to social media, each of us has a limitless, unmediated space for communicating with one another.”
We both consume and contribute to this public space.





What’s in your diet?

Living in the digital age also means maintaining an healthy diet while consuming media, and avoiding too much of the media junk food. This diet comes from “countless numbers of sources – a cacophony of information that runs the gamut from useless to reliable, from base to inspiriting.” She warned that anything anonymous lacks accountability. Regulating one’s diet has another dimension: sometimes we need to refrain from consuming toxic elements.

tweet ANGRY

Recently, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) stated that it was blocking all comments on all indigenous-related stories until a policy is developed for dealing with those who ignore the prohibition CBC has on hate speech.



Digital Identities

As a professional, any items you forward, post or retweet can reflect on your digital reputation – this makes a healthy media diet even more attractive. Any time we “publish,” we can choose to contribute value to the civic dialogue – or not.


Here are some tips from Overholser on keeping one’s diet – and the menu we offer to others – healthy:

-When consuming media, beware of anything that is an anonymous source. The lack of ownership, authorship and accountability makes any such source questionable.

-Beware of reflexive retweets: what is sent with just a quick click may be regretted. And do not forward any bad sources; you are then just further tainting the ‘net.

-Consider the power of digital media in promoting global citizenship: through what Overholser calls “civic tech,” we can advance civic engagement, check on legislation or crime rates, find out who has donated how much to which candidate, and otherwise promote transparency in government.


Digitally Literate Social Workers

In social work, we are always concerned with ethics and values. We need to make sure our communications are culturally sensitive, accurate, and ethical. One aspect of literacy in the digital age is the appropriate use of social media when developing our profession digital identity. Our School of Social Work has developed a series of short videos on appropriate use of social media by social workers:






Digital literacy can only be gained by jumping in to the ocean of new media. Through exploration, research and practice,  you will become more fluent in the language of the digital universe and truly become a global citizen in this new era in human communication and dissemination of knowledge. And perhaps, just perhaps, such fluency will result in vocabulary that does indeed lead to more diplomacy and less armament, more conversation and less combat, more social justice and more peace.




Overholser, Geneva. (2015).  The Media Revolution: What It Means for You.
Retrieved from


van den Dam, Rob. (n.d.). The Influence of Social: New views from the 2014 IBM Global Telecommunications Consumer Survey.  Retrieved from


Photo: Geneva Overholser. credit: Kainan Guo, The Spectrum


Luger, Chelsey (December 1, 2015). CBC blocks all comments on indigenous-related articles. Indian Country Today. Retrieved from


University at Buffalo School of Social Work. (October 28, 2015).  Social Worker’s Guide to Social Media []


University at Buffalo School of Social Work. (October 28, 2015).  Social Worker’s Guide to Social Media: Maintain Galactic Boundaries [Screen shot]. Retrieved from








  • Hi Pat,

    Thanks for sharing your key take-aways from Geneva Overholser’s keynote. It sounds like it was fascinating.

    I especially love the series of animated video clips that were made to expand upon all the points listed in your Social Worker’s Guide to Social Media infographic.

  • Hi, Dorlee, I find the animations are both amusing and informative – and very pertinent to the digital literacy of social workers! Thank you for the feedback-

  • I just came across this blog post by Jimmy Young (@JimmySW) with a recap and power point from his #ARNOVA15 presentation on digital literacy :

  • Heidi Lynn Olsen, SUNY Buffalo State College Student Veteran

    I thought I would leave some thoughts regarding this. As a WNY “student Veteran” at SUNY Buffalo State College in the BSSW program, and as a SVA student board member I utilize FB as a way of sharing resources and information which can assist the “student Veteran” in the Advocacy aspect of the VA’s Core Values as a governmental agency. Also as a Human Services professional I find FB and other technological forms of communication such as e-mail are also more important as they can be viewed as ways for non profit agencies to reduce costs and provide quality service at the same time. One of my cognitive associations with things like FB, blogs, and other forms is that these technologies are similar to “white boards on your dorm door.”
    Some challenges with this can be from my perspective is that there are some instances where paper forms, visible forms of communication, are also necessary. Examples in a non-profit world would be billable hours, billable notes etc. Also, non profit agencies may or may not have the capacity for technology upgrades even though it’s employees may be utilizing these technologies at home. Also, how does a student in social work define leveraging these forms of technologies with human interaction define them in interviews, on resume’s, etc.? How does utilizing these forms of professional networking and communication become part of the professional social work discussion?

  • Heidi, Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Nonprofits do utilize tech. to improve accessibility and it can help with worker safety in the field, too. I know academics are starting to include digital work (blogs, for example) in their CVs, despite such publications not currently credited when considering tenure or promotion. For social work students, many schools, like UB’s School of Social Work, have course work and assignments that utilize social media. Instructing the next generation of social work leaders on ethics, boundaries and uses of social media and other digital technologies is necessary.

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