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Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hey Mr. Hyper-Critical, Who Do You Think You're Talking To?

"I'd really love to tell that guy to pick on someone his own age!"

In the social media world, it can be easy to forget that the audience we communicate with is broad. My own collection of Facebook friends includes my nephews, my coworkers, my friends and my family. It didn't start that way. At first, those I networked with on Facebook included my friends and colleagues. The audience was small. We liked similar things. Our political views weren't far apart and much of our life experiences were common; we all went to the same college; we worked for the same organisation and we were all close in age. I didn't really think about my audience when I posted comments or status updates. If I made a snarky remark or inside joke, most were "inside" enough to get it. That isn't true today. I have to think a bit more carefully about what I post, how it will look to a wide audience and who should see it. It's part of the evolution of my own personal social network.

That brings me back to the quote that started this post. A few weeks ago, a couple of students at CWA came to a trusted adult to share an experience on Facebook. The students were excited about a recent news story and posted it on their wall. It was a controversial topic and some of their friends commented. Most of the comments were positive, but one commenter was particularly critical in an unfriendly way. It turns out that Mr. Hyper-Critical was not a friend of either of the students, but rather an older relative of a friend. The students were upset and wondered what to do. This, as you might imagine, is the part of the story where my mind immediately started to generate suggestions to help coach the upset students. These included...

  • Taking a Facebook break
  • De-friending the friend (who's friends with Mr. Hyper-Critical) and letting the friend know why
  • Hiding posts and comments from the friend
  • Responding, with some coaching, to address the nastiness
  • Trying not to take the comment personally (considering they don't even know the individual)
  • Deleting the comment
  • Adjusting their Facebook privacy settings so that only friends can comment
  • etc. 
Some, or all, of these suggestions might work out really well, but the best suggestion I heard was directed at Mr. Hyper-Critical. Why did he need to make the comment in the first place? Did he really understand that he was writing critical comments about a post from a teenager? Perhaps he, like many social network participants, has stopped recognizing age in the digital world. Without an obvious cue, we tend to see other participants as the same age we happen to be. Conversely, when communicating face-to-face we modify our responses to fit the specific audience; we respond with our own opinions differently when talking to children, our friends or our parents. However, this recognition of audience differences seems to drop away for some in the digital world, as does civil discourse.  We blame a lot of the negativity we see in the digital world on anonymity or youth. But I see just as much rancor from grown-ups who should know better, including Mr. Hyper-Critical.

So, what does that mean for us? Modeling positive behavior is just as important as telling young people how and why they should be good citizens. I hope Mr. Hyper-Critical read some of the comments our students' friends posted in response and learned something. I also hope that other adults in Mr. Hyper-Critical's circle took the time to send a little constructive criticism his way. I know our students learned something from the experience.

Holly's illuminating post on the experience of collaborative work with 3rd graders from last week shows the importance of real-life participation in understanding how to handle social-media minefields. The 3rd graders learned some valuable tools and heard some constructive criticism from peers.  The high school students on Facebook learned more from their real-world experience than anything Holly or I could have lectured about. The more we practice participation in the digital world with students in and outside the classroom, the better equipped they will be to contribute positively in the future. Perhaps they'll become models of digital citizenship for Mr. Hyper-Critical and other adults who should know better.



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