Sarah Gibbs

“The connection between surveillance capitalism and disinformation lies in the increased capacity of platforms to microtarget messages and alter behavior without people being aware of their influence.”

—Paul Starr; “The Flooded Zone: How We Became More Vulnerable to Disinformation in the Digital Era” (2020)


In the twenty-first century, online information seekers are increasingly obliged to arm themselves against countries, companies, and rogue bad actors that disseminate disinformation and indiscriminately harvest personal data. The still largely unregulated flow of content on the Internet means these parties can covertly influence user behaviour, and thereby endanger everything from election integrity to public health. Digital Citizenship, Vol.1: Misinformation & Data Commodification in the Twenty-First Century is Medicine Hat College (MHC) Library’s contribution to growing efforts to address the gap in post-secondary education concerning the socio-political and economic dimensions of online life.

The goals for the text, and the associated instructional program for MHC students, are:

  1. To provide readers and/or session participants with the foundational knowledge required to understand the mechanisms that enable online communication and that monetize its content
  2. To give readers and/or session participants strategies to navigate effectively what is often a confusing and divisive information environment, and to become positive actors within it
  3. To help widen the purview of Information Literacy (IL) instruction to encompass the socio-political dimension of information
  4. To contribute both to the discussion around Public Interest Technology (PIT) in post-secondary education and to the development of quality Open Educational Resources (OER) in Library and Information Studies

The book includes two sections. Part I considers the prevalence of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news in the twenty-first-century media environment, and offers readers means to become more savvy information consumers, including tips for recognizing both fake news websites and the rhetorical strategies on which hyper-partisan reporting relies. Part II examines the rise of what Shoshana Zuboff has termed “surveillance capitalism”: the creation of markets for the personal data search engine and social media companies capture when users engage with their platforms. The section guides readers through assessing the terms and conditions associated with different apps and describes the approaches individuals and governments can adopt in order to reclaim ownership of online data.

Among MHC’s strategic goals is the desire to equip students with transferrable skills that will serve them well in the job market. The Library Services team believes that, in a knowledge economy, there is no more valuable work, or life, skill than robust information literacy.