In early 1998, the news of Bill Clinton's scandal with Monica Lewinsky spread like wildfire. I was finishing up my senior year of college, and like everyone else, fell prey to the media's assault on this woman. My friends and I talked about her in ways that I am embarrassed now to admit. She was demonized, scapegoated, and ridiculed. She was at the epicenter of a maelstrom that any sane person might end their lives over. I have not thought much about her in the last eighteen years, so when I was searching for something to listen to on my way home from work, and saw her name and title of her speech in a queue of "fascinating Ted Talks" (and noticed the length is the exact duration as my commute), I decided to take a listen.
Lewinsky's message is so on point with the culture we live in today. As it was the beginning of the Internet Age, her scandal was the first of its kind to play out in the media with such unrelenting force. The barrage of information that played out from this scandal was available 24/7, and the attacks on her character forced her into hiding for years.
The Internet is the superhighway for the id. ~Monica Lewinsky
It is from this scandal that the "Culture of Humiliation" was born, Lewinsky argues. We exist in a world where not only do we have access to the news whenever we want it, but we can share it, comment on it, and literally embarrass people to death. Our children are growing up in this world where norms include trying your damnedest to humiliate each other. Adolescents and teenagers take pictures and videos of each other, post them online, and then sit back and watch their friends' (and enemies') lives unravel. Instead we need to teach our children to be "upstanders." Instead of being a bystander, people who stand by with indifference, we need to do more to promote behavior in ways that include writing positive messages, reporting cyber-bullying, and not sharing that which will shame anyone.
Many character education programs already have ideas like this integrated in their message, but we need to attack this problem from the digital perspective, because that is what our children know. Focus on social media: digital citizenship, digital footprint, media literacy. Do it from a young age; 3rd grade would be a great place to start. I teach these topics in my Literacy and Media Technology class to middle school students (about 10% of the school population), but the message needs to reach every student, every year. Let's change the norms so that online bullying (which has usurped physical bullying in causes leading to suicidal ideation, according to Lewinsky) is immediately rebuffed and ridiculed. Our children are invested in the digital world; this is not going to change. But when even the good kids (and adults!) get a kick out of laughing at videos of obese people falling or their friends making horrible (often sexual and/or illegal) mistakes, something needs to happen. As Lewinsky said in her eloquent speech, a cultural revolution needs to take place.
I'd like to do more and am looking for ideas. What do you do to convince your students that social media's superpowers should be used for good and not evil?
I intend this blog to be a reflection journal of sorts, on topics such as teaching, leadership, pedagogy, and tacos.