What is it to be a good digital citizen? How do schools effectively manage their online reputation and assist students to be safe? How does a school balance freedom of speech with the rights of others to not be bullied or have their reputations unfairly impugned? What is the law and how does it relate to the ‘community standards’ of sites like Facebook?
Students at our school are encouraged to be good digital citizens. This does not mean merely ‘being good online and not cyber bullying’ but by learning a wide-range of skills that assist them to navigate their online lives today and into the distant future. There is much to learn about online commerce and financial issues, health and well-being, security and netiquette, as well a whole host of literacies, including coding. Students need to understand their rights and responsibilities in all manner of online communications. Not least, students need to be culturally and critically literate in order to assess the veracity and value of the information they consume online. We have made a start improving the quality of learning about the digital realm but like most schools, acknowledge this is an area where we need greater sophistication and the development of more coherent programs across the curriculum.
We have a very simple approach to ‘poor digital citizenship’ that students, teachers and parents are encouraged to follow. If something problematic is happening online, take a screenshot and email it to the deputy principals with an explanation of the issue. The deputies work with the students and parents to resolve the issue. Sometimes, the School Police Liaison Officer is involved if the issue is more challenging. This does not have to be cyber bullying but any issue that concerns a student, teacher or parent, especially in regards to digital reputation.
The school uses Google Alerts to assist manage our collective online reputation. These alerts more often than not point towards positive online articles and posts about the community, students and staff such as sporting success, community participation and newspaper articles about student achievement. It also reveals tweets, blog posts and Facebook page activity where the school or staff are mentioned. Ex-students and parents now to contact the school if they are concerned with any online activity which seems unfair or wrong.
What can a school do if students or teachers are treated poorly online?
Recently an unpleasant Facebook meme page about our school led me to reflect more deeply about the nature of digital citizenship, cyber bullying, satire, the law and free speech. The school was alerted by parents, students, staff and ex-students about the page. An impressive number of current students had posted comments about the unfairness of some pictures and posts. Others had participated quite cruelly. Quite a few had reported the page, as I did.
The screenshot above comes from Facebook Community Standards. After I reported the page and requested email follow-up (which I recommend) Facebook responded by saying the meme page had not violated the ‘standards’. I disagreed and emailed several screenshots with explanations of how these standards had been contravened. In took three days for the page to be removed. You may wish to read more about Facebook’s Security & Warning Systems (and about other warnings) to understand the systems the company has developed. The reality is your best chance of addressing Facebook issues comes from their internal systems or ‘standards’ than in a legalistic sense, although, of course, that may be possible (if you have the time and money).
The balance between the right to speak freely online and the responsibility to use this privilege wisely will be, I’m sure, an ongoing struggle and occasionally paradoxical. I felt a responsibility to protect students and staff. Some of the posts and pictures were crassly satirical others were arguably racist and demeaned people with disabilities. I was very glad the page was removed but it did cause me to reflect about the role of the school in such situations. It would be possible to argue that many satirical programs on the ABC would be more offensive to some members of the community than the page in question. I do not want those programs to be censored or removed as they are often, as all good satire is, deeply illuminating about the nature of our society. Having said that, the particular meme page being discussed was not an insightful work of satire but I am certain you see what I am driving at.
What are the laws anyway?
- The standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults
- literary, artistic or educational merit (if any)
- general character of the material (including medical, legal or scientific character). The penalty is 3 years imprisonment.
- It is also possible that offensive comments of a racial nature breach the Racial Discrimination Act if they “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” on the grounds of race.
For schools, the most sensible course of action is to encourage dialogue about our society and the microcosm of this that students experience daily in their classes and online. Digital citizenship needs to be part of daily school routines and learning. Students need to be taught these skills explicitly, especially with the use of authentic, real life scenarios. Schools needs systems that allow students, parents and teachers to seek support but also need to be wise in how issues are resolved. There are many challenges.
What is it to be a good digital citizen was the opening question to this post? Like traditional citizenship, it depends on who you ask. The answer is most likely to emerge from an ongoing community dialogue as a shared understanding of our rights and responsibilities online continues to emerge.
How do you see the challenges for students and parents, teachers and schools? What are your thoughts and/or experiences of these issues?
FEATURED IMAGE: cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by laikolosse: http://flickr.com/photos/laikolosse/2712207735/