Nic Robertson’s video report on CNN today, “How Terrorists Recruit Online,” raises important issues relevant to social media and our need for constructive uses of video websites like YouTube in our schools and communities.

This fall I visited with a friend who has been studying the importance of storytelling and the formation of individual as well as group identity for terrorist groups using digital media for several years. It should come as no surprise that social media tools offer powerful opportunities for individuals, organizations, and political movements to share their ideas with a much broader audience and also ENGAGE that audience in dialog following “initial contact.” That contact often takes the form of “subscribing” to YouTube video updates, as demonstrated by Nic in this short video. The included analysis of a former CIA employee in the video, that “the conversations which follow watching the video are most important” is spot on. This is true for learning inside and outside of our classrooms as well. Step one in the learning process might be watching a video, but until the ideas of that video are discussed and processed by others the media artifact hasn’t really had a measurable impact on learning or behavior.

In this CNN video, US Homeland security officials admit they don’t have a “silver bullet” to stop people from having conversations about topics of interest to terrorism recruitment groups, and I’m thankful they don’t– Ending conversations about many topics of interest to terrorist groups would amount to shutting down the Internet. This is exactly what the government of China has done in the western providence of Urumqui. Social media tools open up a world of communicative possibilities for all kinds of groups, as Clay Shirky discusses in his thought provoking book, “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.” See my November 26th post, “Learning about Xinjiang, Urumqui, and China’s Uygur People” for more background on that situation, as well as my November 5th podcast returning from China, “Reflections on Social Media, School Change, 21st Century Learning Skills, and China.”

This video and line of thinking raises some relevant questions for schools, school leaders, teachers and parents.

  1. What kinds of constructive opportunities to create with media are you providing for students in your school and community NOW?
  2. As we consider the power of video and social media to catalyze conversations and help shape both individual and group identity, why are we not seizing the opportunities these tools present to constructively share the causes and values about which we are passionate and our organizations ostensibly exist to support?
  3. This CNN video highlights a recurring theme on the subject of Internet safety: Kids who are loners, isolated, and “at risk” face-to-face are the most vulnerable and at-risk online. What are we doing in our homes, churches, communities, and schools to promote more effective communication between adult caregivers and children?

Has your school, club, athletic team, or other organization started creating promotional videos on YouTube yet? If not, why not? If not next month, then when?

I shared Michael Hoffman’s outstandling SlideShare Slidecast “YouTube for Nonprofits” at the end of October this year. Michael is spot on in his exhortation for organizations of all sizes to leverage the power of YouTube and social media to share their message and passion. There can be no doubt: We need more Storychasers wielding digital media tools in constructive and responsible ways in ALL our communities.

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