Every few months a photo like this surfaces In my social media stream feeds telling me to like, retweet a message to ‘teach’ children a lesson about social media.
In world where millions of pieces of new content are being uploaded every second, creators are resorting to desperate and more shocking things to break through the clutter in search of that elusive like, share or retweet.
And it’s not just kids.
Companies, celebrities, politicians, sports teams and, dare I say it, teachers find themselves wanting to harness the power of this vast global network.
Could there be a better way to teach responsible use of the Internet than publicly shaming students in as wider a forum as possible?
I understand the motivation behind the lesson, to protect kids from posting something stupid that could ruin their lives if it goes viral.
However I’m not convinced this approach actually leaves students with an enduring understanding of responsible and ethical online behaviour.
Fear of ridicule may be great for short-term compliance but in the long term it does little promote sound and ethical decision making over the long term. It actually gives credence to the number one tool in bully’s arsenal, a public audience.
And that audience doesn’t need to be big. The reality is that most students aren’t going to experience Star Wars kid level of viral cyberbullying. However if a student has more than one friend on snapchat, they have the the power to hurt and humiliate someone else through a share.
The focus purely on students as creators of content ignores that most of the time the kids are consumers and distributors of content which is where the problem really lies.
Taking part in a meme without really thinking about the context.
Sharing and viewing images designed to humiliate without thinking about the consent or feelings of the subject.
Retweeting articles without reading them.
I was dismayed at the number of teachers who were happy to capture and share their students doing the Harlem Shake. Yet the kids dancing who had no idea that Harlem was a place let alone what the people living there thought of the global phenomenon.
Or how quickly the cause of motor neurone disease was forgotten in the race to upload, share and nominate others in the ice bucket challenge.
The Internet is participatory.
Whether it’s a 13 year old request for a like for a like or a multinational company getting you to share, they are asking for that moment of connection. They believe their idea is important enough for you to stand by it to give it more credence.
The audience for the share could be 1 or 1 billion. It is the power of that audience kids need to appreciate and use appropriately.
What we share is more important than what we create.