Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Stand up for kindness online

When Simcoe County schools closed their doors today due to weather, I resolved that it would be a great opportunity to write my next blog post.

Unfortunately, I spent a good chunk of the day with a bad case of writer’s block. I decided to look to the Internet for some inspiration and found myself caught up reading a series of controversial “mean tweets”.

I won’t get into an explanation of the details of what I was reading online, but I can assure you that it certainly got me thinking about the important and timely topic of digital citizenship.

I don’t feel that the content of what I was reading is even significant because it was really just a very public example of what happens on a less publicized scale between adults and youth all over the world, each and every day. Many of the statements that I read today, made by both adults and youth, were threatening and hurtful, and disturbed me enough that I felt a strong need to speak up on this topic.

Let me start by saying that I, like most educators, am a proponent of the use of technology in schools. I strongly believe that if we as adults don’t personally use as well as teach the responsible and productive use of technology that is relevant to our students, we are not doing our job to prepare them for adulthood in today’s society. This includes the use of social media.

Recognizing that it is tempting to post things online that we may not be “brave” enough to say in “real life” is one component of teaching the responsible use of social media.

In the past, I have advised students to think prior to posting, “would I say this in front of ____ (insert any figure that you would regulate your behavior when speaking to e.g. prospective boss, grandparent, clergy member)?”

Also it is important to consider that, similar to when communicating via email and text, it can be difficult to interpret the tone of a message that is posted online. When this happens, sarcasm or joking can become unintentionally hurtful.

Of course, people are entitled to have differing opinions when communicating on social media. This is one of the wonderful things about the internet. The ability to access different opinions and conflicting information helps us to become critical thinkers and learners.

“Freedom of speech” was a phrase that I saw quite a bit while perusing the world of Twitter today. It really got me fired up!

One person posted, “Everyone is free to say what they want on the internet. Regardless if it’s an adult or a child.”

Social media certainly makes the ability to say whatever you want a viable option; however, just like in “real life”, there are consequences when you say something harassing, threatening or hurtful online.

But unlike when you are speaking to someone in person, what you say online can be seen by any number of people all over the world and cannot be unsaid.

Your online behavior leaves a digital footprint. Also, like being a bystander in bullying situations, when you tweet, retweet, favourite or like a nasty online post, you become a participant.

As a school administrator, situations often come to light involving online harassment and general social media nastiness. There is a misconception that what is said outside of school does not have consequences in school and this is simply not true.

If a situation outside of the school affects the moral tone within the school, consequences can and must be imposed at the school level.

There can also be legal implications, depending on the severity of the threat or the extent of the harassment.

If you or your child are having issues with online harassment, here is an excellent link with some advice for you to follow.

I really do believe that the internet is a wonderful tool for education, entertainment and communication, but please remember when using social media (and in life) #bekind and #showyourbestself :)

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