Last year, I discussed former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal with seniors in my United States Government course.
We not only considered the ramifications of Weiner’s actions– and how his inappropriate use of Twitter had truncated his political career–but I also asked my students to examine their own use of social media.
They agreed to pause and think before posting anything online, and to consider the permanence of the Internet. After a brainstorming session, the class also created several questions to guide them in making wise online decisions:
- Do I treat others online with the same respect I would accord them in person?
- Would my parents be disappointed in me if they examined my online behavior?
- Does my online behavior accurately reflect who I am away from the computer?
- Could my online behavior hinder my future college and employment prospects?
- How could my online behavior affect current and future personal relationships?
I then had my students use their smartphones to review recent postings on Instagram. I heard shrieks as some reexamined not only what others had posted, but also what images they had shared. For the most part, these students worried about scantily clad appearances. Others showed confidence in their use of Instagram to share images of smiling friends and family. My goal isn’t to scare students away from using social media, which can be an extremely useful tool. I just want them to use it wisely. As a teacher, I believe it’s my job to teach my students about digital literacy and citizenship, equipping them with the tools to navigate an increasingly open digital world. This means making students aware of potential pitfalls and helping them to make good choices with current and emerging communication platforms.