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The hype these days has been mainly about one thing: social media. The youth in the Arab world have finally begun to question the role of “social media” in their daily lives, particularly in terms of their education and career.

“If you’re not online, you don’t exist”

Being able to use social and digital media is a skill that has become almost imperative in today’s job market. An increasing number of communities, companies, and even governments go electronic, the Internet has evolved into an individual necessity than a household privilege. Associate Professor at Notre Dame University (NDU), Dr. Joseph Ajami, believes that “these days, if you’re not online, you don’t exist, or you exist in a different generation.” This begs the question: Are we, as Arab youth, prepared? And are our universities ready?

The advertising non-conspiracy

According to popular belief, advertising is part of a bigger conspiracy to control and influence the people. Indeed, whether intentional or not, we are all affected subconsciously by the millions of ads around us. According to Media Matters, an e-newsletter published by Media Dynamics, the average person is exposed to 600-625 ads a day.

One person that does not buy into the advertising conspiracy theory is Dr. Jad Melki, Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Rather, he believes everyone is capable of understanding and using new media. More importantly, everyone needs to become media literate, or, in other words, critical thinkers. According to Melki, becoming media literate means discussing politics, media influence, agenda-setting, propaganda, economics, race, religion, and how ownership influences content. He believes that media literacy “gives [students] a way of thinking that protects them from [the] intended or non-intended effects of the media.”

E-skills

In his ‘Digital Media Literacy’ course, Melki offers more than just theory. “We are, unfortunately, a consumer society; we don’t produce,” notes Melki. But through digital media tools and skills, we can produce thought, awareness, culture, knowledge, Melki explains. Moreover, it’s all free online. Digital literacy involves learning how to use new tools, like PowerPoint, Photoshop, blogs, video recording and editing, pod-casting, and more, so that we learn how to enhance, promote, and advertise our creative, academic and professional lives.

A growing demand

Interest in digital media courses is spreading. According to Melki, both the University of Balamand and the International College are interested in providing such courses. Dr. Ajami says that the NDU will soon offer a course in ‘Online Journalism’. Ayman Itani, a digital media instructor at the Lebanese American University (LAU), is offering a course this fall in ‘Media, Culture and Technology’.

Digital media literacy is a new concept for the Arab world. One problem, according to Melki, is the limited know-how of professors, as well as the technological limitations. Lebanese universities might be a little behind but they are catching up. As Melki says when asked about his teaching and research goals, he says, “I want to empower people.”

This article was previously published in Hibr issue 10.

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