When I began teaching Digital Citizenship years ago, the instruction was very focused on personal safety. We were worried that this new internet thing was just going to be a place for pedophiles and perverts to find victims and we taught students to keep their passwords safe, not share personally identifiable information and to never meet someone you met online, at least not alone. It is kind of ironic that 20 years later we still want to keep passwords safe but any number of data breaches of large companies have potentially made our passwords available to the highest bidder. We freely share all sorts of personally identifiable information because it is the only way we can have access to social media, banking services, online shopping and other tools even though it opens us up to unwanted advertising, and makes our habits and private information virtually public. And, as anyone who has done any online dating will attest to, we also meet people quite often who we have met online.
Safety is only part of the picture that has changed. Social media has brought people together who have lost touch and helps keep friends and family connected while at the same time causing some people to develop “online selves” that are more free to bully others and post hateful comments or act in ways that are not in line with their “real self” values. Carrie James (2012) refers to this as blind spots or disconnects. This anonymity can be isolating, especially for teenagers who are still developing their identity. Offering digital respect and dignity to others adds new layers to relationships. In addition, we now have to concern ourselves with the longevity of negative content that we post online, or that others post with or without our permission. Our digital footprints are always behind us and can be accessed by almost anyone at anytime.
Misinformation and fake and biased news has always been a part of our history but we have never had such ready access to so many opinions and viewpoints. With the proliferation of media and news that we are exposed to every day, it can be difficult to sort through the deluge and make informed choices about what we believe and what we pass on to others. Howard Rheingold (2014) refers to the skill needed to combat this as crap detection.
The anonymity of the web has also changed our relationship with intellectual property rights and copyright as well. If something is available on the internet it is easy to reuse, remix and repurpose for our own use. It is easy to forget that someone created that material and should be acknowledged.
Technology coaches can play a vital role in teaching staff and students how to navigate through all this and keep themselves safe, informed, respectful and ethical.
James, C. (2014). Disconnected – youth, new media, and the ethics gap. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart. Cambridge: MIT Press.