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Mediums for Meanness?

asweeney's picture

Wow! I was so impressed by the panel today. I could speak to those kids for hours more. One thing that came up briefly in the discussion, but that we did not have time to really explore was the ways in which technology can help form tight-knit communities based on the shared destructive comments about a different person or group. I know that this is a common feature of all human societies (we like to form an "us" as opposed to a "them") but such dynamics are typically discouraged in school settings where we try to teach kids about how to be better people---or this was at least true in my religious school that listed one of its top 5 goals as "building community as a christian value." I wonder if increased access and usage of technology makes it less problamatic and easier for kids to be hateful and mean towards others (like the example of the principle talked about today). In my high school, we had an instance of meanness on that became a huge problem. Because people were anonymous, they felt comfrotable saying malicious things about others online. On the other hand, I'm sure a lot of us have seen the ways in which YouTube users united to create a message of kindness -- "It Gets Better"-- in the past years. Do you think technology is helping or hindering children's ability to practice kindness (I really believe that kindness does take practice)? Middle school in particular can be a tough environment around issues of kindness and hostility, and I just wonder if technology (and the anoynminity that comes with it) further confuses middle schoolers as to how they should interact with others? Thoughts? 


alesnick's picture

free(ing) exchanges of information

I am interested in learning more about the basic principles of the Internet.  Does this by Berners-Lee about the need for continued neutrality and openness capture some of it?  How did you learn what these principles are?  And, what broader community projects (laws, associations of people, channels for grievances, public debate?) need to be in place for them to flourish?  I hope I didn't shut down inquiry into free speech with what I wrote before. 

asweeney's picture

True. But wouldn't it be a

True. But wouldn't it be a shame for children to say something anonymously that they later regret? I guess I'm just wondering how adults can help kids navigate their free speech online....just as they would help children learn to say socially appropriate things in real life? For example, a parent usually has to teach a child that saying "you are fat" to another person is not socially appropriate in society. Likewise, being a bully online (even if what you post are your real thoughts) is not appropriate behavior and might have repercussions. How can we let kids explore their freedom online, and yet also guide them in being kind even while anonymous?

Thomas Lord's picture

Absolute anonymity is the

Absolute anonymity is the only condition in which speech is truly free. As Oscar Wilde said, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." The internet provides a mask to people who may or not have the maturity to deal with free speech. This is one of the problems with the internet that can't truly be solved without compromising the basic principles of it.

alesnick's picture

truth in motion

I like Wendell Berry's statement that "the truth is always different and larger than we had thought" and Adrienne Rich's line, "Truth is an increasing complexity."  For me, these glosses on truth suggest that it is not fixed, it is relational, emergent, changing.  Different from conceal/reveal.  Donna Haraway writes that "we become accountable for what we learn how to see."  Truth telling is contingent on this opening to learning,and to responsibility -- to the free-fall into something new or different.  Could working on the Web help people gain skills to communicate truths-changing? Could we arrive at freedom thus without violence?