Examples need to be set for online conduct

BY SYDNEY WIDELL —

If you wouldn’t say something to a person’s face, don’t say it online. It’s a tired trope we’ve heard since we were old enough to log onto the Internet, impressed on us by parents, teachers and guidance counselors. During my years in the district, I am grateful to acknowledge that the message has, by and large, stuck. Cyberbullying has never been a prevalent problem in our school, and it is rare for students here to feel uncomfortable, threatened or harassed when they open their computers.

Our parents, who came of age in a pre-Internet generation, had no one to impart this wisdom on them. While we may have been born into the world of social media, our parents had to transition into it, and sometimes, they lack the good Internet graces that we of the younger generation have been taught.

But if parents truly wish their children to abstain from unkind online behavior, they themselves must lead by example and cease their own Internet hostilities.

According to the Center for Violence Prevention, online harassment is the most common form of cyberbullying, and includes behaviors like the use of obscene language and online media as a place to fight.

It is vital that community members have online platforms where they can share their opinions, engage in debates and exchange information, so long as they do so respectfully. But from time to time, these platforms become battlegrounds where individuals are targeted, ridiculed and attacked. The nastiness that can surface online is just as damaging to adults as it is to children.

I am not writing specifically of the closed Facebook groups for community members, but of the online interactions between adults in general. I can’t remember the last time I opened my Facebook page and was not barraged by a stream of political content and the ensuing arguments that border on obscene or abusive. Most of this content is generated by the adults I respect, who, when given an online soapbox and the degree of separation offered by the Internet, transform from wise role models into hate spewing assailants. Sometimes content published by someone I’m not even directly “friends” with is linked onto my page because someone I do know has participated in it. The onslaught has only intensified now that we are in the midst of an election cycle.

When parents engage in this behavior on a public platform they share with their children, they turn their children into bystanders and establish this type of abusive behavior as a norm. What’s more, in such a small community it is likely that we know everyone involved in these public online disagreements — participants may be our parents or the parents of our friends, and students must come to school and work together the morning after their parents spent the night digging into each other on social media. Just as we should use discretion before we post certain photos, so to should adults before they become involved in Internet spats because both of our online audiences are more widespread than we realize.

It is time that adults commit to a culture of Internet civility, so that we can follow their lead and grow into polite and respectful individuals, on and off line.

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