Social Media and Critical Literacies

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Due to the immense changes in society and the way people communicate in the past 50 years, communication methods are now multimodal, and people need literacy skills that go beyond books. As Tarc (2013) writes, “In our current multicultural societies, it is hard to identify one’s identity and their understanding and background, in order to avoid possible misunderstandings,” (p. viii) and such considerations need to take place now that global migration is at its highest and daily interactions occur with people from different countries than ourselves. Whether or not people have experienced migration and/or immigration personally, many of the people they interact with on a daily basis are likely to have been born somewhere else; even without this interaction, the accessibility to the internet means that no one is isolated in their own “corner” of the world. Digital and print media tools can be used by educators to help students develop critical literacies skills, so that they can be more participatory and contemplative global citizens. 

Humans will be journeying forever. These journeys happen personally, such as searching for national identity or sexual orientation, and internationally, through outlets like social media and in understanding a country’s history. Each part of that journey will involve interacting with other people face-to-face and encountering many informational sources. The world is also now connected by the use of the internet. People spend so much time in this space that it has become a second reality for some, and for most, an extension or alternate version of themselves. The global connection the internet brings forces citizens to consider other living conditions and politics and social realities. Students need to be equipped with critical literacy skills as they journey throughout their lives. It is essential for students to also understand how media influences our perceptions and how varying media types can be used under guise. A new type of citizenship must be considered: ‘digital citizenship’.

Something that critical literacies challenge people to do is “to use critical lenses to evaluate moral and ethical issues associated with publishing, [and] access to information in a democracy,” because it is now necessary to have “reading comprehension in a digital environment” (Gainer, 2013, p. 17). This reading comprehension can take many forms, from interpreting text lingo to photos all the way to political magazines and national announcements. This exact view of multiple literacy modalities was highlighted by Morgan and Ramanathan (2005). From their curriculum evaluation with English for Academic Purposes classes, they observe that “Whether we speak or write, take a photograph, produce a play, or create a website, each communicative vehicle will offer specialized compositional choices [which] shape what we can mean and how the experience of those meanings will be understood and retained over time” (2005, p.153). The communicative vehicle chosen by the author is as important as their message. In an example examined by Buchmayer (2017), the Me to We organization targets youth for volunteer opportunities in exotic places. In order to best reach this audience, the organization publishes many advertisements on social media sites, such as Facebook, where their target audience is active very often. Their advertisements rely on discourse that highlights the travel and adventure of the trip and on their website, there are more details about the destination and the volunteer experience (Buchmayer, 2017). This organization focuses on what Buchmayer calls “global education as a lifestyle brand” (p. 75). By interacting with such examples, students can build critical literacy skills that can help them become better digital citizens, with more information and better understanding and appreciation for others’ positions.

What gets posted online is a representation of the person posting it. However, knowing how to react to such material is also important to understand. The way that media has influenced our thoughts and “knowledge” on a topic may run deeper than we may recognize. In her humanities class, Lewis-Berstein Young challenged her students to think about ideologies embedded in language. She recounts that “we unpacked the language and ideologies across multiple sources of international media by focusing on wording, such as freedom fighters and terrorists describing the same groups” (2018, p. 507). Giving students the chance to openly discuss and challenging them to think critically about vocabulary used will help them become informed citizens and encourage them to collect and think about information before making assumptions. It also encourages them to consider other people’s perspectives and opinions, while they have to dissect why the writer chose specific words. This will help students develop a “metalanguage for print, visual and multimedia” (Morgan & Ramanathan, 2005, p. 155). Viewing the world in this 360-degree view allows for cosmopolitan learning as we learn from our encounters with world cultures to produce greater social meanings (Rizvi & Beech, 2017).

Please share your ideas for integrating digital citizenship and critical literacies in the classroom below.


Buchmayer, K. (2017). Voluntourism Discourse: A Case Study of ME to WE. Masters Thesis.

University of Ottawa.   

Gainer, J. (2013). Developing critical literacies in the information age. Journal of Adolescent &

            Adult Literacy, 57(1), 16-19). doi: 10.1002/JAAL.210

Lewis-Bernstein Young, S. (2017). From situated privilege to dis/abilities: Developing critical

            literacies across social Issues.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 61(5), 501–509.


Morgan, B., Ramanathan, V. (2005). Critical literacies and language education: Global and local

            perspectives. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 25, 151-169.


Rizvi, Fazal, & Beech, Jason. (2017). Global Mobilities and the Possibilities of a Cosmopolitan

            Curriculum. Curriculum Inquiry, 47 (1), 125-134.                                                                                    

Tarc (2013) in International Education in Global Times: Engaging the Pedagogic; p. vii-xxiii and


Hi! I'm Sarah Langridge Bitar. Passionately obsessed with teaching, it is a part of everything I do. I work full-time as an EdTech Development Coordinator at Carleton University and work part-time as an ELT instructor in an IT program. I've taught everything from literacy to EAP and anything in between. I've worked all over Kingston and Ottawa in ESL and for Global Affairs and NAV Canada as a Pedagogical Advisor and Learning Quality Specialist. I enjoy writing and sharing my research with others, so I am excited to have a platform to encourage all of you, and challenge you to think about your teaching and learning methodologies. I'm on my way to work in the photo here, and I just think, if you aren't having fun, you aren't doing it right. Feel free to connect on LinkedIn to learn about my other publications.


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