Activism is a Click Away

What was the last social justice cause that you supported by liking a post, sharing an article or retweeting? Did you do so because you were passionate about the subject? Because it would increase your social status given your online network of relatively like-minded people? Because it felt good to help in some way? Because you thought it would make a difference?

slacktivism

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Activism takes many forms. A person may donate funds, volunteer their time and skills, or become informed and inform others. All of these things can be done using social media, including live streaming, and/or physical action. Although some argue that slacktivism is lazy, selfish or even harmful, ultimately all attempts to create a better world do affect change in some way. Gillian Branstetter even argues that “the Internet is more than an accessory to the real-world actions that change demands—it’s now a proven way to make it happen.” In fact, a Georgetown University study showed that “those who support movements online are actually more likely to engage in activism in real life.”

Well, that’s a relief. I can continue liking and retweeting for social justice guilt-free. But is that enough? What does it really take to affect meaningful change? I think that meaningful change happens when people become educated through disruption of dominant discourse and then change their own ideas and behavior. Language is powerful in constructing and reproducing expectations, roles, identities, and behaviors. And what is social media, if not language? So like, retweet, and share away, my friends.

Trolls

In the very first post that I wrote for this class, I said, “I’m scared of these things called “trolls.“” After completing the readings for this week, I’ve realized why I have these fears, particularly as a woman. According to an Australian study, 76% of women under the age of 30 experience harassment that ranges from “unwanted contact, trolling, and cyberbullying to sexual harassment and threats of rape and death.” It makes sense then, that one of my primary concerns of putting myself out there online, would be that I would become the target of trolls, especially if I took a stand for social justice issues. Katia Hildebrandt is one such lady who challenged white supremacy and ended up with a “troll army” threatening her. You can hear more her story by checking out her blog post #PrivilegeGate, or, How I Unwittingly Provoked a Troll Army. It’s as scary as the fairytales in which a young girl tries to pass over a bridge guarded by a troll.

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Matt Rosza suggests a variety of ways that we can change the discourse of “gendered bigotry against women [that] is widely considered to be “in bounds” by Internet commenters (whether they openly acknowledge it or not).”  The final suggestion is that comments must be done by someone who attaches his or her name to the charges and can, thus, be held accountable for them. This aligns with what I wrote about in my blog post about anonymity. Although anonymity and privacy are essential and beneficial in some circumstances, anonymity does allow some users to make comments that they would not normally make in real life. But as John Oliver says, “People say it’s (the internet is) not real life, but it is. And it always has been.

The internet and social media hold the possibility of social change. What will you do the next time you encounter a troll? Will you head home or cross the bridge?

Taking The Internet For Granted

I’ve used the Internet countless times, but I have never really considered how it was developed, who maintains it, or that regardless of the site I use, they will all work equally well. I take for granted that this tool exists as it does, without considering the thoughtful foresight that has gone into maintaining net neutrality.  Net neutrality is a set of rules that makes the web free, ensuring equal treatment for all Internet traffic, regardless of whether one is browsing Khan Academy videos or cat clips.  This all began with the man who invented the internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who made his idea available freely, with no patent and no royalties due. The World Wide Web Consortium decided that its standards should be based on royalty-free technology, so that they could easily be adopted by anyone. He wanted the Internet to serve as many people as possible.

Tim Berners-Lee

Photo Credit: Southbank Centre via Flickr

Mark Zuckerberg also claims that he wants to provide an app that offers free access to certain internet services, including Facebook, on mobile phones in developing countries. The app is called Internet.org. The app only offers some websites though. For this reason, a group of publishers in India pulled out of the program, saying it violated the principles of net neutrality. This violation takes advantage of impoverished people by limiting them to second-class Internet access, when Zuckerberg could find other ways to provide free Internet if he really wanted to serve others.

This is not an isolated incident. Poor people often are not protected in the same way that middle class people are because of the differences between the security of devices they can afford, the networks they connect to, and the quality of legal help they can access when their rights are violated. This digital divide continues to grow as the Internet evolves and as some websites become more powerful.

For many years, the Internet has provided equitable opportunities for people to learn and create, but this space is changing. It makes sense that it is. As a microcosm of our society, the Internet is mirroring our society’s ever growing upper and lower classes.

Some day, we may commiserate together over the death of the Internet as we know it. Will we be able to say that we fought corporatization, or will we sit back passively and watch it happen, taking for granted that the Internet will always be free?

Social Media: Who are you and who will you become?

When was the first time that you tried “Googling” yourself? We’ve all done it.

Google Search Bar

For me, it was right after my guidance counselor told our graduating class that post-secondary institutions would be looking at our Facebook and Myspace pages in addition to our applications and resumes when deciding who would “make the cut.” I didn’t use either of those social media sites at the time, but a couple of things did come up: an article about an award that I had received through the school division and a local news article about our basketball team (I was noted for getting fouled out). All of the other results were related to my cousin’s hockey career (we shared the same last name) and my great-uncle’s  memoirs from our town’s centennial celebrations (we also shared the same last name). My digital identity was pretty lame. It didn’t reflect my true identity.

After reading the articles for this week’s class, I found myself curious about what I would find this time in a Google search of myself. The results were very different. This time results from my gravatar, Facebook, my school’s website, Twitter, my blog, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, FlipQuiz and the Saskatchewan Cheerleading Association 2014 AGM came up. (Not all of the results were for my accounts, but other Sarah Wandys in the world.)

Google search 1

Google search 2

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Google search 4

My digital identity has evolved, and I’m proud of how it represents me professionally as an educator and volunteer, and also personally. But after reading Bonnie Stewart’s blog post “What your New Year’s Facebook Posts Really Mean,” I wondered how much these social media sites reflect who I am/was independently of them, and how much they have actually shaped who I have become. Stewart says, “Social media is where we are deciding who we are, not just as individual digital identities but AS A PEOPLE, A SOCIETY.” If this is true, then it is a relationship between what I have engaged with on social media and how I have responded to it that has created my digital identity, keeping in mind that I assume a global audience so I sensor everything I share.

I’m not the only young person who is taking care to manage their digital footprint. A study by Madden and Smith, “Reputation Management and Social Media” suggests that “Young adults are the most active online reputation managers in several dimensions. When compared with older users, they more often customize what they share and whom they share it with.” They are becoming more digitally literate and better digital citizens. This is important because customers, employers, neighbors and dates are more likely than ever before to search you up on the internet.

Because people seeking employment know that employers will search them on the internet, some have proactively begun to create online profiles or portfolios to make a good impression and provide links to examples of their skills and abilities rather than simply listing them on a resume. One man, Alec Brownstein, even used Google AdWords to connect with desirable employers. When the creative directors he wanted to work for Googled themselves, they would get an advertisement at the top of the search results introducing them to Brownstein. He ended up receiving two job offers. What we share has immediate and long-term affects, both positive and negative.

I tried searching my maiden name again, just to see what the results would be. Sure enough, the same articles about my award and basketball game appeared, although several pages into the search. Still, I was able to find them.

Every tweet, every blog comment, every Facebook post, every Instagram picture, every AGM report, and every Pin is a snapshot of your identity, and more importantly an opportunity to consider who you want to become.

The Power of Connection: Your Moral Obligation

What are you passionate about? Music? Technology? Cats? Baseball?

How did you become passionate about this topic? Friends? A teacher? Your parents? An online discovery? I’d bet that it was a connection with someone who shared their passion that inspired you. These personal connections spark interest and creativity, and provide the necessary fuel to continue learning and participating. George Siemens says, “[n]urturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning” (2014). The internet doesn’t simply connect us with ideas or knowledge, it also connects us to the people who have those ideas. Thanks to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, people have been able to connect with, well, almost anything they  want.

Connections edit

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So, what happens when the possibility of making connections online are limited by laws?

Lawrence Lessig says that copyright laws are stifling creativity, resulting in the stunted evolution of new ideas, and argues that the internet should revive a read-write culture rather than kill it. Danah Boyd argues that locked-down academic journals should be accessible to the public for the same reason: our collective ideas are more powerful when they are shared than when they contained by “[h]eavy metal gates.” Aaron Swartz, a contributor to the development of Creative commons, among many notable accomplishments, argued, “sharing isn’t immoral – it’s a moral imperative.” He fought the Stop Online Piracy Act bill in the United States because he believed so strongly in the importance of learning from others. He said that it was a “bill against the freedom to connect.” These individuals understand the necessity of connectivism to our collective global development.

"I work for ideas and learn from people" - Aaron Swartz

Some organizations, like Creative Commons, have taken steps to ensure that digital material remains accessible to the public. Their “vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.” Spaces like Flickr are thriving today because of the work of of Creative Commons.

Right now, I’m learning how to play guitar using a variety of internet sources and apps, all of which I have accessed for free! People have generously shared their knowledge and talents by creating tools and educational videos for others, like me, to benefit from. This same generosity allows open education to serve those who might not otherwise be able to access learning materials or educators.

Take advantage of the connections that are available to you online, but more importantly, be generous in what you can offer to others. Share your passion.

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.”

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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.

 

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.

Snapchat

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.

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.

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.

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Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewrennie/5305466633

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.