Digital natives with limited reflection: Media and Information Literacy amongst Côte d’Ivoire’s youth | #mediadev | DW | 22.10.2020
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Digital natives with limited reflection: Media and Information Literacy amongst Côte d’Ivoire’s youth

While creative and resilient in the digital sphere, Côte d’Ivoire’s youth accepts biased reporting or censorship too readily.

Young Ivorians are adept at using digital media. They are creative when it comes to using digital media and many have developed strategies to cope with media malpractices such as cyberbullying or hate speech. These are two significant, indicative findings from the present MIL INDEX country study. Both seem impressive considering the challenges of high illiteracy rates and the strongly politicized national media landscape in Côte d’Ivoire. On the downside, young Ivorians are all too ready to accept bias and censorship as given. 

The results of the study summarized here are drawn from eight focus groups conducted in the beginning of 2019 in Abidjan and Bouaké and interviews with eight local experts. They confirm that young people are very good at using and creating content on social media but urgently need better critical, analytical, and reflective skills. 

The MIL INDEX study for Côte d’Ivoire summarized here focuses on Media and Information Literacy skills of 15-35-year-old youths. Five dimensions of Media and Information Literacy (MIL) are addressed: access, analysis, reflection, creation, and action. In contrast to countries in which representative studies could be conducted (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya) the methodology for this report was purely qualitative, relying on key informant interviews and focus groups. The findings presented are indicative of the state of MIL of young people in urban and peri-urban Côte d’Ivoire but cannot claim to be representative of the entire population.  


Young Ivorians access a variety of different media for a multiplicity of purposes such as information and news, communicating with peers and family members, entertainment, education, and business and much more. Digital media, especially social media, are the most popular among youths of all age groups. Greater accessibility of smartphones in terms of costs have made them available to the vast majority of participants. Young people value the prompt access to information, swift communication via instant messengers, oral and visual inputs, and opportunities of exchange, social media offer. Most of the youths that took part in the focus groups are “professionals” when it comes to downloading and using apps for communication, news, entertainment, or education.  

Traditional media such as radio and television are perceived as old-fashioned and often rejected, especially by urbanites, as not quick enough in comparison to social media. Nevertheless, radio and television are still valued for their auditory and visual input which are significant characteristics considering the high illiteracy rates within Côte d’Ivoire. Radio is slightly more popular among youths from peri-urban settings than youths from Abidjan when it comes to news. The focus groups suggest that this preference is since radios provide locally relevant news whereas most other media have the tendency to focus only on news from the capital. Print media are widely regarded as too costly and outdated by young people from Abidjan and Bouaké region. Overall, digital and social media dominate all other media among the focus group participants. 


On the one hand, most focus group participants showed a decent knowledge of online and offline media. On the other hand, the results indicate that many do not have an extensive knowledge about their rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Another significant finding is that although most young people consider content provided by traditional media as more trustworthy than information found on digital and social media, they clearly prefer to use the latter. Several participants are aware of the fact that news content shared on social media often lacks quality and trustworthiness but still prefer to rely on social media due to more opportunities to actively engage in discussions, a flow of information perceived as faster and a notion of being less subject to censorship than in traditional media.  

Focus groups from both locations revealed that there is still room for improvement when it comes to analytical skills in the context of social media. Overall, it was found that urbanites seem to question the trustworthiness of media content slightly more than their peri-urban counterparts. 


Focus group participants are very frequently exposed to malevolent forms of communication and media malpractices such as cyberbullying, hate speech, sexual harassment, and disinformation. The vast majority recognizes malpractices and many have developed some type of prevention or coping mechanism such as ignoring cyberbullying, retaliating in the case of hateful comments, asking the opinions of friends on doubtful information, or reporting misconduct to social media providers.  

Nevertheless, a deeper level of reflection on the impact of media messages created by themselves or others and the underlying agenda is often missing. Interestingly, politically-motivated disinformation in traditional and digital media seems very normalized. Most young people do recognize this type of media malpractice but do not reflect on ways of how to handle it. 


The young people who took part in the focus group discussions have strong skills when it comes to basic creation. Taking pictures, posting them on social media platforms, and setting up instant messenger groups as well as sharing information with peers, were activities mentioned in all groups. Only a few youths from the Abidjan possess more advanced and complex creation skills such as editing photographs or setting up websites.  

The experts interviewed for this study confirmed well-developed creation skills among Ivorian youths but at the same time drew attention to the dangerous dynamics that can develop if young people create media content while at the same time lacking critical skills to analyze their impact. 


Experts and focus groups indicate that young Ivorians are highly motivated and aware of options on how to put their MIL skills into practice for their own and their communities’ benefits. At the individual level, youths report numerous examples of how they use their skills to access information they are interested in and online resources to find jobs or education opportunities.  

However, it is a different reality when it comes to actively using their skills for the benefit of their communities. Although most of them show great enthusiasm for social causes and have thought about options on how to help less-fortunate people or to conduct awareness raising on issues such as health and climate change, only very few seem to put the activities they are considering into practice. This gap might be attributed to the social insecurity most of them are confronted with, which leads to prioritizing their own personal worries and concerns in areas such as health, education, and employment. 


Digital and specifically social media are fast becoming the staple diet of Côte d’Ivoire’s youth, especially in more urban settings. Social media are used by the focus group participants in the focus groups for making their voices heard, but they are also used as a significant source of information even though the youths experience frequent cases of mis- and disinformation. Many report of malevolent forms of communication such as cyberbullying and have developed strategies to come to terms with them. However, the youths are too willing to accept news bias and censorship as given and are not very motivated to put their media skills to use for the benefit of society as a whole. 


Methodological background

For each of the five dimensions (access, analysis, reflection, creation, action), survey respondents received a score ranging between 0 (= no skills whatsoever) and 20 (= highest level of skills) points. The scoring system measures how often certain skills are actually put into practice (access, creation, action) or tests the skills directly (analysis, reflection). Since citizens cannot permanently use media and information sources unless they are journalists or media workers, a perfect score of 100 for any country appears unrealistic—it is more about the relative performance across time, and in comparison to other countries, as well as being a tool for identifying deficits to be addressed in media development.

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