Let’s talk about who we are online
One of the first conversations you have with teens is about who they are – and what they are online should match who they are in person. This is a lesson many adults do not understand, given that social media was passed on to them once they were fully trained. I was once talking to someone about his use of social media and his tendency to make fun of people on Twitter, to which he replied, “It’s just Twitter. What you say on Twitter doesn’t really matter.
But it does, and this is where the fundamental problem lies. Too many people have a character on social media and a different character in real life. They forget that social media is real life. Who they are on social media is who they are as a human.
People read hurtful, mean and derogatory comments and it affects them just as much, probably more, than if you had said it face to face. This is the state of mind that we need to change. It is changing mindsets rather than laws that will improve discourse on social media.
That’s not to say that teens can’t make online jokes, participate in debates, or post selfies, but we need to talk to them about where these debates are heading (online, forever) and that they reflect their personality, even if they don’t. believe it. It comes down to their own integrity and understanding of personal responsibility. Who they are online doesn’t just reflect who they are; it shapes who they are.
Being trolled online is a horrible experience. I’ve had it every now and then, for short periods of time. Seeing people you love trolling online is even worse, especially when you can’t defend them publicly – because throwing yourself into the fray is neither useful nor good for you. It’s a strange world we live in where people think they can attack people online, thinking the screen between them, the internet, their victim’s screen and their victim means it won’t affect them so much. Watch how Twitter trolls attack Leigh Sales every night for doing her job as ABC 7.30 host.
Many send vile abuse because they can hide behind a username, but it is undeniable that sending the abuse is heinous.
As the Prime Minister talks about changing the law, our Online Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant is working to change mindsets, where it matters most, in schools. She is speaking to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority to advocate that online safety becomes a more important part of the educational curriculum. Successful education of students will lead to improved discourse on social platforms.
In many ways, social media has become a cesspool because adults today have never learned digital literacy. Social media first appeared when I was in school in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Digital fingerprints did not exist until I was already in the workplace and years ago. Facebook statuses are awkwardly constructed in third person. We are now paying for it. It is important that we catch up with the next generation of adults.
Today, students are very familiar with digital literacy programs, and the Electronic Security Commissioner continues to be the best resource for any teacher or student.
We also need to discuss who we compare ourselves to. It can be depressing to sit at home on the couch in the final days of lockdown and see influencers telling us all of their routines to stay gorgeous in their 20s. By virtue of biology, they are going to be at their best. It can be impossible to let a scroll on social media feel good about yourself. That doesn’t mean we’re going to stop doing it, but it might be good to remind ourselves and our teens that we don’t need to compare our version of Sunday night, in tracksuits and watching. Netflix, with this wonderful influencer – a filtered version of reality.
Social media has also become the place where so many of us house our inner lives. Our thoughts, our book lists, our inspirational scrapbooking, and our moments of joy. During the lockdown, this is how we connected with people far – and not so far – far. This is where communities were formed, where friendships were made. There is goodness there, in the midst of the carnage.
We just need to show the next generation that who they are online is who they are.
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