We’ve unfortunately always had people in our communities who are bullies and seem to enjoy hurting other people. What’s changed is that gossip which used to remain local has now gone global, and gossip can now be confirmed with images and video. Bullying which used to be limited by time and place can now take place 24/7 via SMS messaging and web communication tools. Jeffrey Zaslow’s article, “Surviving the Age of Humiliation” in today’s Wall Street Journal explores these issues. He writes:

Others argue that there has been a ratcheting up of meanness—that the changes in technology have made us nastier and more cynical. “It’s like a blood sport,” says Mr. Fink, who runs a crisis-management firm in Los Angeles. “It feels like everyone has their cellphone out, ready to take a photo that will hurt someone else.”

It’s as if all of us now have our own printing presses and our own television studios, and we can use them for good or for evil. The problem is that too many of us succumb to the anonymity of the Web, says Parry Aftab, a cyber-security attorney based in Irvington, N.Y. “We’re braver when we type. We don’t have to look someone in their eyes. It’s easier to be vicious, to cross the line between funny and cruel.”

Creative Commons License photo credit: trix0r

Are you encouraging the students with whom you work to use their cell phones, laptops, and other interactive technologies for good instead of evil? We need to empower digital witnesses to constructively share their voices and those of others on the global stage. As Jeffrey notes, television and YouTube are full of “bad examples” when it comes to to digital media use.

Helping students become aware of their digital footprint and the impact that can have on their lives as well as others’ lives is just the first step. Jeffrey writes:

At Indiana University, my daughter is taking a course titled “The Principles of Public Relations.” On the first day of class, the instructor, Lanier Holt, surprised his 104 students by telling them he had conducted a “scouting report” by Googling each of their names and checking out any photos of them he could access on Facebook.

Many of the students still seemed to have an untarnished Web presence. But more than a few were the subject of embarrassing postings—their own and other people’s. Mr. Holt found photos of his students with marijuana pipes or posing half-naked. He came upon photos in which students had shaved off an eyebrow of someone who had passed out from drinking.

Mr. Holt warns his students that future employers are Googling them, and that unseemly images of them “tagged” on some other person’s Facebook page could come back to haunt them. The most proactive step they can take is to assume everything they do may end up as part of the public record.

The solution is NOT to simply stay off the web. I don’t think the solution should end with simply maintaining your own digital footprint, either. Deep web search tools like Pipl (referenced by Joyce Valenza in her K12Online09 keynote, “The Wizard of Apps“) can help us better monitor our footprint, but not constructively shape it. “The solution,” if there is one, lies in defining ourselves as positive and constructive contributors to the social media conversations taking place all around us.

Words and images are powerful, and they can shape our perceptions along with the perceptions of others in lasting ways. Many of us today DO have “our own printing presses and our own television studios” in our pockets. We need more storychasers modeling the ethical and constructive uses of digital media in our schools and communities. All our schools need the student journalism class publishing content on an interactive, moderated website which can serve as a sand box for respectful social networking in the community. Where are the leaders in your community, sounding this clarion call for digital citizenship? “The T-Bird Times: The Northfield Middle School Newspaper / Multimedia Club” is one of the best examples I’ve seen to date of this idea in action. I heard Kevin Jarrett share about it at NECC last year in Washington DC.

Last summer I had an opportunity to share some thoughts at the Oklahoma RTNDF Multimedia Workshop. As the day kicked off, Carol (who was leading us, I didn’t record her last name at the time) shared a summary of the three most important rules for journalists to follow. Whether or not we are formally enrolled in journalism classes, teaching journalism, or employed as journalists, I think we can benefit from keeping these in mind as we use social media. Carol suggested we all remember to:

  1. Be accurate
  2. Be fair
  3. Be clear

What kind of resources and support would you want if you were to start (or encourage others to start) a student Storychasers “club” at your school? This could be a club activity where students learned to use flash-based camcorders, digital cameras, audio recorders, and blogs to constructively document and share their views and perspectives on school and the community. Students could accept “assignments” and work to create multimedia online reports about them, at times working collaboratively with students in other locations. I’d like to build that kind of interactive community through Storychasers, borrowing some of the ideas from CNN’s iReporter community.

There’s little doubt it’s a challenge to not simply survive but thrive in this “age of humiliation.” We need proactive, rather than simply reactionary responses, to help all the learners in our communities become constructive storychasers.

Cross-posted to the Storychasers blog.

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5 Responses to We need more constructive and positive Storychasers in The Age of Humiliation

  1. Phil says:

    There’s an interesting project sponsored by the World Bank that uses an online game format to encourage players to become storytellers.


    My 2-cent write-up: http://www.mudpiegames.com/?p=54

  2. Wes,

    Thanks very much for the mention. Unfortunately the TBirdTimes Ning will not continue past July 1, 2010 due to Ning’s recent announcement they are ending free networks … our after-school club is funded by our education foundation and we don’t have the money ton continue the service with the level of multimedia the kids want (a “Pro” Plan.) We do however have a wiki here from NECC09 that will live on: http://tbirdtimes.wikispaces.com/.

    It has been an incredible experience watching these kids learn and giving them the opportunity to explore social media and Web 2.0 tools in a safe environment. I’m most impressed and proudest when I see a kid apply what they’ve learned “in real life,” like on their own personal YouTube channels. It’s inspiring to know I’ve helped make a difference!

    Thanks again for the kind words!


  3. Wesley Fryer says:


    I am crushed to learn Tbird Times is ending! If you might be interested in migrating to a WordPress/Blogpress alternate site let me know, I am doing that with several Ning sites now and would be glad to share what I know / am learning about this process.

  4. Hi Wes – actually, we hope/plan to continue, most likely with a WordPress/Buddypress setup, we’re experimenting now! If you have a favorite solution I’d love to hear about it sometime! -kj-

  5. Commenting on my comment – since we have yet to see what features Ning will make available in the free networks they are promising to K-12, we’ll have to wait and see. I hope we can stay with them. Reference:

    Introducing Ning Pro, Ning Plus and Ning Mini

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