The internet is a beautiful place, but it is also a very, very dark place. At the tips of our fingers, we hold so much power to put something out into the world forever, whether it be for good or for bad. I was very honored and grateful for Carol Todd (@c_todd) coming to our EDTC 300 class and speaking openly about the sensitive topics that have affected her and her family (also check out the Amanda Todd Legacy, @AToddLegacy). From it, I have taken many very valuable lessons that will serve as a foundation for my future classroom and teaching students about the power of the internet.
As Carol said during her talk, it is not the tools themselves that are bad. The ways that we access the internet through our various devices is extremely beneficial. The fact that I can open my phone, go to the internet, and then have a whole world of knowledge to explore all within a matter of seconds is an incredible feat. However, it is the way in which we use those tools that can make it a negative experience and give the internet a bad reputation. As Carol said, “it’s the behaviour, not the tool.” This has extremely important implications for the classroom. We need to make our students aware of the huge responsibilities that they have through the use of their devices and how large of an impact that the internet can have. It is important that they foster compassion and empathy and use it while they are connecting with the world of technology.
In Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk “The Price of Shame,” she talks about how her story began spiraling out of control with a simple click, “a click that reverberated around the world.” Those are very powerful words that make an attempt to understand the profound impact that the internet has. It is as simple as a twitch of one’s finger and all of a sudden, you can change someone’s world and turn it completely upside down. Just like Monica and Amanda’s stories, once that click happens, your identity is no longer your own. The internet has taken who you are, who you know yourself to be, and instead begins to twist it and allow it to be formed by the repetition of clicks — whether those clicks are “like” buttons on social media or the “send” button on an email or chatroom. Like in the cases of Amanda Todd and Monica Lewinsky, those simple, little clicks became catastrophic explosions. The internet and social media are a power beyond our belief. In the other instance of Justine Sacco that Jon Ronson discusses in his TED Talk “How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life,” a similar experience happened where the internet became a very dark place, all potentially because of a misunderstanding and the ambiguities of the written or, in this case, typed word. In Ronson’s words, “Twitter took control of her life and dismantled it piece by piece,” all without her even knowing. It’s hard to imagine, especially for those that haven’t experienced it, that one small mistake — a brief lapse in judgment — could define you for the rest of your life.
I think Monica Lewinsky hit the nail on the head when she said in her talk, “technologically enhanced shaming is amplified, uncontained, and permanently accessible” which is now the truth for each of these instances, and many others, where the internet became the environment for their mistake to thrive and grow into an uncontrollable being. And I think that is the main point that we need to be getting across to our students when teaching them about cyber-safety and digital citizenship. Once it is out there, whether you wanted it to be or not, it is suddenly out of your hands. Monica’s talk, like Carol’s, also taught me an extremely valuable lesson that I will take with me into my classroom (if you can’t tell, I really enjoyed her TED Talk), and that is that yes, we have a right to freedom of speech, but we also have a responsibility to freedom of speech where we need to be aware of whether or not we are “speaking up with intention or speaking up for attention.” The former allows for that compassion and empathy to come through, the latter is for selfish purposes and personal gain, whatever that may be.
As we have discussed in this course, there is no longer a separation between online and offline, which is especially true for the younger generations. And as a result, there is no longer a separation between what is public vs. private in the world. Our teens, and admittedly even ourselves, are drawn to what Ana Homayoun in her article “The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers” calls the “instantaneous positive feedback loop.” People, especially the vulnerable teenagers in our classrooms, gauge themselves against the likes they get from the internet which keeps pulling us in again and again. The internet becomes a part of their identity formation and then you run the risk of your identity no longer being yours to create. It is all of our responsibility to help protect those around us and one of the best ways to do that is to teach them how to be positive leaders in the online universe and safe, responsible digital citizens.
If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying, below are some resources for additional help:
Stay safe and know you’re not alone!