For the past couple of years, the dangerous term digital natives has been used to describe people under the age of 18. The reason I refer to this term as dangerous is because there was/is an assumption that young people were natives to technology, the internet, and navigating online. Nevertheless, just because they are brought up in a digital world, does not make them digital citizens. Being literate in the digital world and with media should be looked at like continuum, there are varying degrees of use.

Often when we think about digital citizenship and media literacy we tend to think of schools and children. However, digital citizenship and media literacy is not just for kids. Cyberbullying and online shaming is one of the issues faced by kids and adults alike. One of the earliest instances of this online shaming happened in 1998 by Monica Lewinsky. Although social media was not in the picture as it is the today, she lost her reputation on a global scale instantaneously through the power of World Wide Web.

Fast forward a few years and the online shaming is worse off. The creation of social media, such as, Twitter, gives a voice to the voiceless, but in some ways it has created a sub culture of online shaming. We are now turning to the online world for social media shaming. For example, Justine Sacco lost her job, reputation, and much more with one tweet:

Justine Sacco's Tweet
Justine Sacco’s Tweet

Although this tweet is racist and should not be tolerable, the response to her tweet from others on twitter are just as intolerable. Ronson quotes Meghan O’Gieblyn from the Boston Review saying, “This isn’t social justice. It’s a cathartic alternative.” Because we are hiding behind a screen, many rush to judgement or speak before they think and with the internet this can have harsh consequences. Sometimes through this public shaming we are losing site of the big picture.

The problem of cyberbullying is a growing issue.  It is so easy to rush to judgement, say hurtful things and post online without thinking. Because the online world is our augmented reality and is so intertwined with our offline lives, we really need to think critically about what we are posting, sharing, and creating. Another example of not thinking before posting is Geris Hilton’s racist post about his coworker’s son. What upsets me the most is the ongoing jokes and comments in the sidebar. I have much respect for Cayden’s family in trying to focus on the positive and sharing what a beautiful child Cayden is through the hashtag #HisNameIsCayden.

Geris Hilton's Facebook
Geris Hilton’s Facebook

It is important to think of the following questions when you are online:

Would you say what you are going to type to that person in real life? Would you be ok with posting this in a public place for others to see? Does your post have a purpose?

I think we need to use our “common sense” when online, just as we do offline.

But let’s remember the positives too… there are positive impacts on social relations, it allows us to teach authentically through project-based, cooperative learning, and inquiry-oriented approaches, and it allows us to connect globally with limited costs.

Photo Credit: aa1083 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: aa1083 via Compfight cc

“School is the exact place we should be teaching students to live one responsible life as a citizen, in the digital world and the physical world.”

It is all worth it and it is so important to teach and model how to be a digital citizen. The future is unpredictable and changes very quickly, but the one constant is us as humans. How can we use these dramatic changes to enhance and transform the way we do things? Are we making time for conversations? Are we having conversations around digital citizenship? Is our time spent online, time well spent?

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