Digital Citizenship

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A Partisan Divide on Whether Offensive Content Online is Taken Seriously

Americans are divided on both whether offensive content online is taken seriously enough, and on which is more important online: free speech or feeling safe. Republicans and Democrats have grown further apart when it comes to these issues since 2017. Overall, 55% of Americans say many people take offensive content they see online too seriously, while a smaller share (42%) say offensive content online is too often excused as not a big deal, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted in early September 2020. In addition, about half of Americans (53%) say it’s more important for people to be able to feel welcome and safe online, compared with 45% who believe it’s more important for people to be able to speak their minds freely online, according to an earlier Center survey fielded in July 2020.

Helping Parents, Teachers and Kids Understand and Use Digital Safety Platforms

Does your school or district use a digital safety platform to monitor student communications? Jim Gray, executive director of teaching and learning at Vancouver Public Schools in Washington State, writes that he thinks there are ways for schools to use student safety platforms to help develop students into better digital citizens. In a blog post, Gray offers five strategies, including sharing with students (and their parents) that students’ online communication and actions are monitored. He also advocates that schools and parents turn questionable decisions in online communications into learning opportunities rather than "gotcha" moments.

Facebook Changing Content Policies

Facebook plans to start globally blocking or removing any content that poses increased regulatory or legal risk beginning October 1, 2020 as part of its amended terms of service. The rule stems from a proposed law in Australia forcing the social platform to pay media firms for articles but is being enforced globally, marking a departure from CEO Mark Zuckerberg's stance on the importance of free speech. It will be interesting to see if this new stance will have any effect on cyberbullying complaints as well.

TikTok Fights Misinformation

TikTok, the video sharing app, takes a lot of heat for falsehoods and propaganda that often shows up in user-created content. To help rehabilitate its image, TikTok has partnered with the National Association for Media Literacy Education to launch a "Be Informed" campaign that features top influencers in humorous infomercial-style videos educating users about how to identify misinformation. The five videos cover topics including "Fact vs. Opinion," "Question the Source" and "When to Share vs. When to Report."

Supporting Your Kids’ Digital Leadership Skills

Technology can help support students' digital-leadership skills -- not just digital citizenship -- according to Andy Plemmons, media specialist at an elementary school in Georgia. He defines a digital leader as someone who:

  • Uses social media to share ideas and empower others
  • Connects and collaborates with others to learn together
  • Is not afraid to show their work and share their creative outlets for the greater good
  • Is willing to share their thoughts with an open mind and respect for others

Plemmons contends that many children have been taught what to not do, rather than proactively using the Internet in a way that’s effective and meaningful.

Watch Out for Deepfake Videos and Images

Here is another vocabulary term you need to add to your lexicon – deepfakes. Deepfakes are images and audio pulled from social media accounts to create convincing videos – sometimes of people who never existed - for extortion, misinformation and disinformation. Deepfake technology enables anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to create realistic-looking photos and videos of people saying and doing things that they did not actually say or do. Cybercriminals are increasingly interested in the potential use of deepfake videos to pressure people into paying ransom or divulging sensitive information or to spread misinformation, Trend Micro reports, making the vetting of any information online or in media even more important.

Are Tech Tools THE Safety Solution in the COVID-era?

Tech companies have been creating apps and devices for tracking employee wellness and promoting customer safety as restaurants and other businesses start to reopen, but experts caution that they could give employees and customers a false sense of security and possibly do more harm than good. "Some companies are embarking upon things that are not going to help and may actually set us back," said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Tools that the technology relies on, such as antibody test results and infrared thermometers, can be inaccurate, leading to a false sense of security.

Facebook Planning to Use Artificial Intelligence To Combat Hateful Memes

Facebook is combating hate speech and misinformation by developing natural language processing models and a database of meme examples for training artificial intelligence moderators. The company, together with DrivenData, will also launch the Hateful Meme Challenge, which will award $100,000 to researchers who develop AI models that can detect hate speech in memes.

Digital Cheating on the Rise

During the shift to remote instruction, many educators are using online proctoring services to monitor students for signs of cheating while they take traditional closed-book exams. Some students are speaking out against these services, objecting to everything from the design of the software to remarking that the whole process is a huge distraction to test taking. The University of California Berkeley has already banned online exam proctoring, with some students saying they may not have the high-speed Internet connection or living situation to make remote exams happen effectively and equitably. Of course, other students are finding ways around these safeguards, using tips and tricks they find online, such as hiding notes underneath the view of the camera or setting up a secret laptop. But as two can play at that game, so remote proctoring services are constantly coming up with countermeasures. On its website, one online proctoring service even has a job listing for a “professional cheater” to test its system. 

Now’s The Time to Get Internet Savvy

Your kids are probably spending more time online then ever before, so now is a better time than ever to work on digital safety. Think about things such as navigating digital information, vetting sources and fact checking, to name a few. Check out this set of 10 short videos on YouTube from Crash Course. The videos, ranging in length from 5 to 13 minutes, cover fact checking, lateral reading, vetting sources, the pros and cons of using Wikipedia as a source, evaluating photos and videos and data and infographics, and even how not to be drawn in by click bait. Brain Pop also has an excellent Media Literacy video for older kids on how to be a savvy consumer of mass media, including topics such as how to evaluate advertising, news stories, opinion pieces and other hidden persuasions. For a quick read on the subject, try 5 Essential Media Literacy Questions for Kids .