Anonymity on Social Media

Do you present yourself in the same way online as you do offline?

An essential part of digital citizenship is based on ensuring a positive digital identity through consideration of digital etiquette and digital rights and responsibilities. Teenagers in particular are encouraged by their parents and teachers to think about how they present themselves online for their safety, the well-being of others, and their futures. Some common mantras they hear are: “Would you want grandma to see that?” and “Whatever you share is out there forever.”


Photo Credit: Nate Grigg

So, many teens escape this scrutiny of family members by joining narrowcast tools like Snapchat, while other people are opting for anonymity. What does this anonymity allow?

Anonymity gives people the freedom to discuss controversial topics without repercussion. It is easier to say what you really believe when no one is going to hold you accountable outside of the space where you make anonymous comments. So while some people may feel that anonymity is positive because it allows people to disrupt racism or misogyny without being trolled, ultimately, that same anonymity protects the racists and misogynists and grants them permission to perpetuate hate. Really, anonymity is most useful if you are saying something that you should not; otherwise, it is important to attach your identity to social justice issues and stand up for what you believe in.

Some social media are going out of their way to provide users with the opportunity to remain anonymous. Here are some examples:

Yik Yak, an app that targets other anonymous users within close proximity, has been linked to threats, pranks and cyberbullying at schools across North America. Although the app has potential to be a great networking tool, some users abuse their anonymity making the app a cyberbullying threat.

Kik is another app that offers the opportunity to be whoever you want. While the app is designed to be a fun messaging service, Julia Carrie Wong’s article “What is Kik and should your child be using it?” states that “In January, for example, a 25-year-old Louisiana man was convicted of using Kik to extort young girls into providing him with nude photographs. The perpetrator pretended to be a young girl himself in order to persuade 45 victims, aged 8-14, to share child abuse material with him.” The app is not designed to improve the effectiveness of criminals, but again, anonymity poses a threat.

4chan is an example of a social forum that advocates for anonymity and functions as something of a safe space to discuss any interest or curiosity. 4chan is not “inherently evil,”  but anonymity has allowed the site to leak nude celebrity pictures, encourage iPhone users to microwave their phones, and make fake bomb threats. 4chan provides a place where any kind of mischief is wholly possible.

Tanith Carey’s article “Why teenagers are ‘self-trolling’ on websites like Reddit” states that some of our children are bullying themselves, either by adopting fake online identities to attack themselves or inviting strangers to do it for them. It’s a phenomenon known as cyber self-harm. Even in spaces where anonymity is not part of the philosophy, some will create fake online identities to create a sense of anonymity that offers youth the opportunity to not only harm others, but also themselves.

Ultimately, I revist the question that I posed in my blog from last week. Here is what a few readers said then. Does this discussion of anonymous social media change your mind? Please continue to vote.



Song Time!

If you’ve been following my progress, you’ll know that I’ve been working on learning basic chords and strumming patterns. Now, it’s time to make the pain worthwhile by learning a song. I have decided to try “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, so I’ve been searching for music and lessons.

I’ve found an app called… wait for it… Guitar Chords and Tabs. I simply search the song or artist and the app provides ranked options of both chord and tab versions of the song. (The app will also come up with options for ukulele and bass.) It’s easy to read the lyrics and the chords on my small phone screen, which is impressive and convenient. However, this app doesn’t indicate what the strumming patterns should be.

I have been using Guitar Tricks, GarageBand, and Chordbook for some lessons about tuning, technique, and chords and although they offer some great beginner learning experiences, I feel ready to try to something slightly more complicated. Guitar Tricks offers limited access to song lessons for users like me, who have signed up for free, and GarageBand and Chordbook don’t teach songs at all. So, I did a YouTube search for lessons and found MunsunMusicLive, which is a fantastic channel. Munsun has uploaded hundreds of videos of himself playing and singing popular songs on both guitar and piano, and while he’s playing the lyrics and chords appear on the screen. It’s a great option for learning the strumming patterns. I can’t keep up with him yet, so I still practice slowly on my own, while following along on the Guitar Chords and Tabs app.

Here’s Munsun’s lesson for “Brown Eyed Girl.”

Munsun’s videos are great if you already know how to play the chords in the songs that he has uploaded, but Drue James goes a step further on his YouTube channel with lessons that are broken down into categories based on your skill level, and by providing instructional lessons.

In my search to find songs to play, I’ve also realized that most people learn how to play using tab. When I was studying to be a music teacher in university, we would have heated conversations about whether students should learn to play using chords and reading music notation, or to learn by using tab. My goal for next week is to learn how to read tab and find tab for “Brown Eyed Girl.” I’d like to know which method is easier for beginners to use, so that if I end up teaching guitar at some point in my career, I can make an informed decision.

Ultimately, people who learn to play any instrument, regardless of the method, do so because they love music and have fun playing. And that’s really what it’s all about.

Digital Citizenship: Whose Responsibility?

Well, I’ve done it! Just like droves of teens, I have created a Snapchat account in an attempt to understand the appeal, and so far, it’s been fun.


I remember first hearing about Snapchat a few years ago. People were saying that it was dangerous for teens to use a platform where their pictures and information disappeared. It would allow teens to share nude pictures or bully peers without a trace of evidence left behind. Furthermore, parents were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to monitor their child’s activity. Then, there came the concern that snaps could actually be saved by taking screenshots of them and children would then be held accountable for their actions in very permanent ways. Both of these parental concerns come from fear of the unknown, and also out of genuine care for their children’s safety.

However, rather than fearing the technology, which is always changing and presenting new challenges, parents and teachers should invest in teaching children about digital citizenship. Young adults need the skills to make responsible decisions online, regardless of the platform. A 2008 study conducted by Sabina, Wolak, and Finkelhor states that as many as 93% of boys and 62% of girls see porn before that age of 18, well before Snapchat was released in 2011. It’s easy to blame the unknown for the trouble that teens get into online, but consumers also have a responsibility for how they use apps and services. In fact, in a way teens transitioning out of using what we might term broadcast social media – like Facebook and Twitter – and switching instead to using narrowcast tools – like Messenger or Snapchat, could actually be a sign of teens’ growing responsibility for choosing the appropriate time and place to share personal information.

So exactly how much responsibility for user safety lies with providers, and how much with users?

Right now, Kik, a free messaging service in which the users remain anonymous, is under scrutiny, since a young girl was kidnapped and murdered after meeting up with a fellow anonymous Kik user. Michael Kaiser, the executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, says that “Kik is not designed to create a community of bad behavior, but there does tend to be bad behavior on anonymous apps.” So, is Kik responsible for knowingly providing a dangerous platform for people to meet, or are users responsible for their safety when using the service?

Apple’s “backdoor” encryption fight against the FBI and US government is an example of a company that is maintaining its responsibility to protect the safety of its users. They fear that the technology they would design to allow the FBI to access private information on the phone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, would be used wrongfully in the future. Companies like Google, WhatsApp and Mozilla have expressed similar concerns. So, is Apple responsible for knowingly developing a dangerous technology, or are citizens responsible for not misusing the technology?

These are the kinds of questions that we need discuss with our children and students. Let’s make digital citizenship a priority so that kids can continue to connect and learn safely.

Guitars Hurt

Did you know that guitars are mean? It’s no wonder that people shred them. (Pun intended!)


But seriously, this week of practicing has not been a rewarding experience. My chording fingers are raw and my sound hasn’t improved as much as I had hoped it would at this point. Some strings buzz, some thud, and a few ring the way they are supposed to. Check out the video to see what I mean.

This week I am most excited about learning how to cut the beginning and ending of my video before posting to YouTube! Say goodbye to awkward filming transitions. The hidden curriculum really is the most exciting part of learning.

A Connected Audience: You Have Two Roles to Play

Hello, it’s me…

Adele smashed records with this hit by connecting with her audience, and now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the benefits of being an effective audience member and drawing an audience from an educational perspective. In an earlier post I discussed George Siemen’s theories of connectivism as learning, in which he suggests that “[n]urturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.” Today, I propose that you must consider yourself as an audience, as well as your regular audience to achieve this principle of connectivism.

Connecting with Others: Yourself as the Audience

To achieve this connection consider your role as an audience member. One way to be an effective audience is by currating content. The process of content curation is the act of sorting through large amounts of content on the web and presenting the best posts in a meaningful and organized way. You might use Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Pocket, Feedly, or RSS among other content curation tools to maintain consistent connections with the people and topics you would otherwise follow on a multitude of sites and apps. Kay Oddone says that what is left out is just as important as what is included in your curation. Consider who and what you really want to connect with and what is worthy of your time and attention.

Another way that you can contribute as an audience member is by responding to what you hear. Share your thoughts. Provide feedback. Get involved. Just as day to day relationships depend on effective communication skills, so does connectivism depend on the relationship between the speaker and listener.

Connecting with Others: Drawing an Audience

Yet another way to create and maintain connections for the purpose of learning is through blogging. Because once thinking is public, connections take over, the author must carefully consider how they will connect with their audience. Terry Heick argues that [t]he reader, in fact, will feel about you, your subject, and your essay only what your written words themselves induce her to feel. In the process of sharing your ideas, you have the opportunity to connect with, and therefore learn from, others. Clive Thompson says that such a connection forces you to pay more attention and learn more. For this reason, a blogger must be intentional in order to contribute to and benefit from connectivism.

You may not have the power of Adele to draw a worldwide audience, but you do have an opportunity to make meaningful connections with people and ideas that will lead you further along your learning journey.

A Music Teacher Learns to Play Guitar… Slowly.

Learning how to do something well takes concentrated effort and careful practice. Week two has now passed, and I can play something that resembles an E major chord and an A major chord. Contrary to my plan, I haven’t mastered switching from a G major chord to a C major chord, and find it difficult to play a C major chord well on its own. (You might want to plug your ears for this week, folks.)

I’ve also signed up for a free Guitar Tricks account, which gives me access to a series of beginner lessons. The website asked me a series of questions about my musical background, commitment to learning, and previous guitar experience and has designed a path of lessons based on my responses! All of the lessons are linked to songs, so I feel more like I’m really playing guitar. Motivating! So, in addition to GarageBand, which I discussed in my post last week, I’m using this site. I also like using when I only have a few minutes to sit down and review chords. It’s really user friendly.

I am following @GuitarMag, @guitarcenter, @guitar_mag, @GuitarPlayerNow, and @The_Guitar_List on Twitter, but I don’t often see new Tweets from them. If you follow someone who posts interesting information either about learning to play guitar or famous guitarists, please let me know!

Attention Please!

A young woman is sitting on her living room couch one evening. The room is dark except for the glow from her cellphone. All seems calm and relaxing. In reality, the young woman is following a trail of searches. What started out as the google search for the best cheesecake recipe has turned into a search about the chemicals that are put into the food we consume. It’s now 11:30 p.m. and she still needs to find the perfect cheesecake recipe.

phone glow

Photo Credit:

Does this sound familiar? What starts out as a basic question can become an inquiry project in a matter of seconds. Inquiry isn’t just for scientists and it isn’t just a process. Inquiry is a dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world. This possibility is not only enhanced by the information available to us, but more importantly the people that we can be connected to.

In the last few weeks I have spent significantly more time on social media than I normally would as it is a requirement for the class that I’m taking this semester, EC&I 831. I have also made more connections with strangers than ever before. Don’t tell my mom. In my first Twitter chat ever, #FGChat hosted by Fresh Grade, I heard ideas from many educators that I would not have connected with otherwise. I also had a helpful guitar teacher post a comment to a YouTube video of myself learning guitar. How cool, kind and generous! This kind of learning is rooted in connectivism.

In his article, George Siemens discusses connectivism as a theory of learning that is especially relevant to educators when we consider the potential that social media and open education can have on our lives and our students’ lives. Siemens identifies the following principles of connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

With theories of connectivism in mind, teachers are responsible for giving students opportunities, skills and literacies to learn from and participate fully in a digital age, in which knowing something is not as important as knowing how to find, synthesize and analyze that information.

Howard Rheingold identifies one of those literacies as attention. He says, “Online, you have to decide which people you are going to allow into your attention sphere. Who is going to take up your mind, your space? Is the person trustworthy? Entertaining? Useful? An expert? Answering these questions leads to the final literacy: critical consumption.” As we and our students engage in learning from others, we have to be critical of the information we find and open to many ways of understanding the world.

Pay attention to who is in your world, because the connections you make will shape you.