While many (if not most) schools in the United States persist in banning viral video sites like YouTube on their networks for all users (kindergarten through 12th grade,) these websites are increasingly playing a higher-visibility role in everyday life and even electoral politics. The need for every citizen to practice effective information literacy skills has perhaps never been greater. In today’s BusinessWeek article “Digital Mudslinging,” Douglas MacMillan writes:
Witness the YouTube effect on the Senate race in Virginia between George Allen, the Republican incumbent, and Democratic challenger Jim Webb. Allen held a comfortable lead over Webb until one of Webb’s camera-toting aides captured footage of Allen making a racial slur during a campaign stop in Breaks, Va. The incident was quickly posted on YouTube, where it temporarily held the site’s No. 1 ranking and swiftly gained national notoriety. Allen has since taken a steep drop in popularity among voters. A seat Republicans previously counted as a sure thing has now become the focus of a hotly contested race.
Some of our political leaders are recognizing the power of digital social networking and digital storytelling tools like YouTube to share information and influence others. Why do so many school leaders seem to be pretending the web 2.0 Internet does not exist? The most obvious answer is that objectionable content is accessible from websites like YouTube– so to comply with CIPA and protect networked Windows-based computers from downloadable security threats, the guardians of school networks often block access to these sites. I continue to maintain, however, that merely blocking sites is an insufficient response to the realities and opportunities inherent in dsn.
Politicians are also experimenting with Internet-based gaming to reach voters. According to the same article:
In California, polls show that State Treasurer Phil Angelides lags well behind Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in voter supportâ€”but that’s not stopping Angelides from tapping a variety of experimental online resources. The challenger set up BSBuddies.com, a site where users play an animated game of building their own personalized Schwarzenegger action figure. The game is designed to focus on what Angelides considers a poor Schwarzenegger record on issues such as education. “Too Cool for School” Arnold, for example, promises to “raise tuition and fees” and “cut financial aid by two billion dollars.”
Even when mudslinging-ads are pulled by their sponsors, the content lives on via YouTube. An example is this video slinging mud at Tennessee incumbent Senator Harold Ford. This again highlights the lesson some MySpace and Facebook users have learned– that they are writing their PERMANENT RECORD online. Once something has been posted to the Internet, it may be there forever. This was also dramatized in a 10 pm news story I saw tonight about McKinney North High School students (north of Dallas) who took nude pictures of themselves on a cell phone and sent them to the boyfriend of one of the girls. Now, not surprisingly, the photos have shown up on the Internet, and no one can take them all offline. The parents were on television, mad at school officials, but this is not the school’s fault: The students in this case made some bad choices and are now facing the consequences. Despite increasingly common news articles like these, my perception is that most schools are not adequately addressing Internet safety, digital citizenship, and safe digital social networking with students, parents, teachers and administrators. It takes a village to raise kids, and unfortunately not enough of our community villagers are talking about these issues and figuring out ways to effectively address them.
Students are making homemade parody political commercials, like this one about George Allen in the Virginia Senate race. Our need to help students and teachers utilize new media tools and websites to constructively communicate and promote critical thinking is dire. New media is here to stay. Citizen journalists are increasing in number, and their voices will not be silenced– whatever school administrators may choose to do on school networks. Some of our politicians have recognized these trends, and have attempted to use new media communication resources to their constructive as well as destructive advantages. Will more of our school leaders recognize the constructive role that can be played by disruptive technologies like viral video sites? This article about students at Boston University using cell phones to create videos for class assignments sounds hopeful in this regard. I’m not reading similar articles about K-12 students anywhere in the nation (yet) however. Perhaps these election stories will at least get the attention of more leaders who may be in the dark or in denial about these trends. Young people are getting involved in politics using new media tools, and some of their creations are both appropriate and thought provoking. More young people should follow this lead.
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