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How Actua and MediaSmarts are helping Canadians build safer experiences online



Whether you’re trying to find a local business, complete an assignment for school, or learn something new on YouTube, the internet has become a fixture in the lives of Canadians. According to research, Canadians under 25 years old spend an average of 7 hours online every day. But as more Canadians, and particularly youth, spend time online, we need to make sure we’re building digital literacy programs that equip them with the skills they need to safely navigate the digital world.

Today, we’re announcing $1.3 million in new grants from Google.org to support online safety. Actua will receive a Google.org grant of over $670K to expand its Engage. Empower. Connect (E2C) cyber smart project that empowers youth from vulnerable groups with the skills, awareness and confidence to be cyber smart. To help improve digital media literacy in Canada, MediaSmarts will receive a Google.org grant of over $670K to develop and implement a National Digital Media Literacy Education Training Program focused on supporting underrepresented communities.

We spoke to Jennifer Flannagan, CEO, Actua and Kathryn Hill, Executive Director, MediaSmarts about their plans to help Canadians build the critical thinking skills needed to safely navigate the online world.

Actua’s Engage. Empower. Connect

Jennifer Flanagan, CEO, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan, CEO, Actua

Why is it important for people to have these skills?

Youth are online now more than ever, having had to rely on technologies, such as computers, smartphones and tablets, to learn, connect and socialize through the COVID-19 pandemic. The online world has also become an easy place for youth to access endless information, build connections, express opinions and foster a sense of belonging. But, while these interactions can contribute to positive development and well-being, the internet can also be a place where youth fall victim to various online threats, including phishing, fraud, ID theft, bullying and exploitation. That's why Actua believes cyber safety and digital citizenship are integral to digital literacy and why we created our Engage. Empower. Connect (E2C) project that empowers youth with the skills and confidence to explore, create and connect responsibly online.

Who is the program catered towards?

The program is catered to students in Kindergarten through to grade 12 across Canada, with a particular focus on youth from under-resourced communities and youth who are underrepresented in STEM, including girls and young women, youth with intersecting identities, racialized youth, Indigenous youth and youth from low-income families. The program will start in January 2023.

What do you hope the program will achieve?

With Google.org’s grant, Actua plans to scale up its Engage. Empower. Connect (E2C) cyber smart project across Canada to engage diverse youth populations in building the awareness, skills and confidence to be proactive digital citizens. We will engage over 30,000 youth in programs that empower them with the skills and confidence to distinguish between truth and mis/disinformation, to identify and avoid online risks and threats and to create a positive digital world for all users. Our goal is to create a new cyber smart generation ready to embrace the challenges of the digital age.

What will the program cover?

Through this project, Actua will develop age-appropriate content and delivery mechanisms that meet the needs of youth at every stage of their development and cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • cyber safety (i.e. making safe passwords and describing and accessing cyber attacks and malicious content),
  • data governance (i.e. understanding how digital data is produced, used and shared),
  • ethics, safety and the law (i.e. strategies to protect personal data and identity online).

How can I learn more information?

To learn more about Actua’s digital-skill building programs that equip youth with the skills and confidence to safely participate online and access a library of online resources and activities, visit actua.ca.

MediaSmarts’ National Digital Media Literacy Education Training Program

Kathryn Hill, Executive Director, MediaSmarts

Kathryn Hill, Executive Director, MediaSmarts

Why is it important for Canadians to have digital literacy skills?

Digital media literacy skills are essential for people to be able to engage in all aspects of our lives today – from education and employment to civic engagement and even health and wellbeing. We are seeing the impact of the low digital literacy levels of Canadians in the spread of misinformation as citizens lack the necessary skills to critically read and engage with the information they see online. People also need support navigating the platforms that provide us all with social connection, entertainment and essential services. As new issues and platforms emerge, digital literacy will continue to be an important part of lifelong learning so that citizens of all ages can engage online safely.

Your new Google.org grant will go towards developing a national digital literacy program. Who is the program catered towards?

This training program will be geared towards people from priority communities who might not have had the opportunity to receive prior digital media literacy education. We’ve heard from many partner organizations who work with racialized and marginalized groups that there is a need for accessible and customized workshops and learning materials in this area.

When will the program start and what will it cover?

We are in the first stages of developing the program with plans to begin outreach in 2023. The program will be developed and tailored to the needs of specific audiences; however, we know the following workshop topics are in high demand right now: protecting privacy and security online, using social media safely and responsibly, how to find and verify information online, thinking critically about the things we see online, digital parenting and digital well-being.

What other activities and initiatives are you currently excited about?

Right now MediaSmarts is gearing up for our 17th annual Media Literacy Week, which takes place October 24-28. This will be our biggest week yet and there are ways for everyone to take part. Over 100 organizations across the country are planning activities and events that promote digital media literacy such as workshops and panel discussions. We also have a Teachers’ Hub available to help support educators in their programming for the week. For the first time ever, MediaSmarts is also launching a new awareness day during Media Literacy Week: Digital Citizen Day, which will encourage Canadians to think about what it means to be a digital citizen and remind us that we have the power to impact our online spaces for the better.

How can I learn more information about MediaSmarts and your upcoming programming?

More information about the training program will be shared in 2023. We welcome anyone who is interested in the program or hearing more about our work to get in touch with us info@mediasmarts.