There is no democracy without media literacy

Short thesis

In the last months, during difficult situation in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, there was a sudden influx of pro-Russian commentators on many polish web forums. That was not just a normal activity of citizens discussing political matters. As it turned out, it was (and is) a clever special operation of Russian government agencies. Spamming and trolling techniques allowed to take over many web-forums and effectively suppress any discussion on the topic. How we defend our freedom of speech while confronted with such organized and creative attack on it?


Democracy relies on freedom of speech. Democracy is all about mediation, and this is impossible if all points of view are not taken into account. This is true today, in networked world, even more than it was in the old days.

But the right to speak freely needs to be constantly defended, because the modus operandi of the enemies of the free speech change as much as our media do. In the era of newspapers it was a censorship, in the era of mass media it was a grip of propaganda machine. And now there is something completely new. It's a special operation in an information network.

To counteract this citizens need to exercise both "hard" control over media (that is equal access to communication channels, net neutrality, free software and so on) but also a "soft" power - media and digital literacy competences which allow to understand, disseminate, discuss, use, re-use and critically approach information coming from different sources.

We need privacy. Freedom of speech is impossible if our communication is being monitored, recorded and could be made available at any time. We need anonymity. We need to talk to public without revealing who we are, because - as American court said in McIntyre vs.. Ohio Election Board case - "anonymity is shield protecting minority from oppressive majority". And we need to know. Freedom of speech is impossible if people use communication technologies unconsciously, if people consume information without being critical, if people rely on only one source of information.

There is no way to defend the freedom of speech without giving the citizens the tools to exercise it. Widespread media literacy is the only such a tool in a world of information wars.