When Social Media Breaks Bad: Why I STILL Want My Students Using Social Media

Monday, February 6, 20176:40 PM

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Yoda may be talking about the dark side of the force here, but his Jedi wisdom is just as applicable to the dark side of social media and technology. Like the force, these tools provide us with tremendous power and opportunity, but that power comes with responsibility and challenges.

When used purposefully and thoughtfully, the positive impact of technology is transformational. I share the positive impact of social media and technology regularly and believe in its value for schools, teachers, and students. These tools can help us connect, grow, create, and learn like never before.

But the dark side can’t be ignored. Technology makes it easy to amplify your voice, even when that voice has a negative message or impact. Whether it’s fear of the technological unknown, the anonymity that the internet can provide, or the ease of adding a comment with a simple click, these issues are becoming more and more prominent in our schools.

PEW reports that 90% of young adults use social media, a 78% increase since 2005. Social media is a constant in our students lives, so we need to teach our students to use these tools safely, responsibly, and productively to create positive digital footprints for their futures. Teaching digital citizenship matters. Modeling authentic use of social media matters, too. Leveraging students’ interests in and use of social media by incorporating it into instruction creates more opportunities for students to connect, communicate, and share their learning.

Explore more posts about social media, including the Why I Want Students Using Social Media series: #1 Community, #2 Crowdsourcing & Connecting, and #3 Sharing Our Awesome.

Another great sketchnote from Sylvia Duckstowth.

When Social Media Breaks Bad

But the more social media is used and the easier it is to access, the easier it is to break bad. Like Walter White, it’s easy to go from innocent teacher to the 21st century online troll equivalent of Heisenberg. Cyberbullying, sadly, is on the rise.

According to The Cyberbullying Research Center, about 28% of students say they’ve experienced cyberbullying and 16% have cyberbullied others (Teensafe.com). Additionally, 35% of teachers reported cyberbullying, and of that 72% came from students and 26% from parents, according to a UK study. Some states have even made efforts to protect teachers from cyberbullying.

It’s a school’s job to protect its students; teaching them about digital citizenship and how to protect themselves online is part of this responsibility.

I like this graphic from http://www.technologyrocksseriously.com.

The 11 Year Old Troll

About a month ago, my students created book review video projects. One of my sophomore students, Flo, reviewed Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story. She started by singing along to “Billie Jean” and thoughtfully, hilariously discussed the book. She created a fun project, posted it to YouTube, and as she usually does, she demanded that everyone watch, follow her YouTube channel, and help make her famous.

A few days later, Flo noticed a comment on her video. Someone she didn’t know criticized her work, and basically told her she sucked. This led to a discussion about how to deal with negative comments, cyberbullying, and anonymity online. We talked about the power of these tools to amplify voice, but also their ability to let someone hide behind the internet. A day later, the post was deleted, but another student remembered the username and followed up.

She discovered that this commenter was a random kid from England. He looked to be around eleven, and to have no connection to Flo, her project, or our school. She laughed about it, and we joked about her eleven year old British troll, but this pretty innocent story could have been so much worse.

I talked with my class about my own experiences with negativity on social media and about the need to share the good to overpower the bad. Whether it’s dealing with cyberbullying, the eleven year old troll, or the angry parent who harasses you on social media, we all need to be digital citizens and set positive examples for the future.

We watched Juan Enriquez’ TED Talk, “Your Online Life, As Permanent as a Tattoo” in class to facilitate a discussion about our own digital footprints and online lives.

For many schools, social media and even technology is new--it’s emerging--and it’s all of our jobs to teach the skills of digital citizenship and leadership. Like it or not, students’ futures are cemented in a vine, hashtag, or snap, so let’s help them do it right. Then, let’s help them use the tools to create more opportunities for learning experiences in our classrooms and beyond.

How do you handle negative social media experience with students, parents, or teachers? What advice do you have for when social media breaks bad? Share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.

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