Chances are your students may not recognize the name Gilbert Gottfried, but they all recognize his voice. Until he posted controversial tweets this week, Gottfried was the official voice of the Aflac duck.
See the posts, “Gilbert Gottfried Apologizes for Offensive Japan Tweets” and “Why You Should Have Sympathy for Gilbert Gottfried” for more background. Gilbert is (officially) @realgilbert on Twitter. Before you decide to visit his site, have sympathy for him, or discuss this with students, be advised Gilbert uses profanity and makes frequent sexual references on Twitter. That may be standard fare in a stand up comedy club, but it’s certainly not appropriate content for “normal” classroom discussions.
While I don’t recommend any educators show a live feed of Gilbert’s Twitter account to students in class, this certainly IS a situation worth studying and discussing. Like other cases, it highlights the very REAL consequences rash words can have, shared on Twitter or elsewhere. It also brings up issues about professionalism and image, for individuals as well as organizations. Like it or not (and since he was apparently pulling in a six figure income for his work, I’d say he liked it) Gilbert was officially representing Aflac. When you publicly represent another organization, you should keep that in mind whenever making comments in public… And that DOES include on Twitter. Unfortunately, I’m not writing this as someone who has a perfect track record when it comes to public remarks an employer finds offensive. All of us have the opportunity to be global publishers today thanks to social media, so the importance of this conversation topic is greater than ever.
Should you discuss this incident involving Gilbert Gottfried with students, parents, co-workers and others you know? Probably, depending on ages and contexts, of course. Certainly it’s not great Gilbert uses profanity and sexual references in public, and as educators we don’t want to hold him up as a model “digital citizen” for students to emulate. At the same time, however, it is silly for us in schools to pretend that many students are not encountering language like Gilbert’s every week and having to make decisions about the words THEY choose to share both in face-to-face as well as online situations. Words are powerful and can have big consequences. Gilbert’s situation dramatizes that clearly.
We need to talk more about issues and individuals like this in the mainstream media which may make us feel a bit uncomfortable for several reasons. At the very least, it can benefit us to be better informed when the situation comes up in a conversation, either during or outside of class. Saying “I’m not going to talk to my high school students about this because Gilbert uses profanity on Twitter” is a lot like people in a Christian church declaring, “We are not going to discuss Lady Gaga and her music with students because we disagree with her gnostic worldview.” Students ARE being influenced by multiple channels of information every day, and as adults we need to both be aware of the content/messages in those channels and find opportunities to have conversations about them with young people… Particularly when the stakes are high. When it comes to digital citizenship and online reputation management, I’d say the stakes are high. Gilbert Gottfried’s story the past week lends support to this contention.
Hat tip to NPR for covering this story in their weekly (awesome) technology podcast.
What discussion questions might be good to use with students for this “teachable moment” lesson on digital citizenship? What’s your take on the Gottfried story?
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