Why we Need to Talk About Leslie Jones in Class

Guest blog post by Julie Smith.
Author of the book Master the Media: How Teaching Media Literacy Can Save Our Plugged-in World

be nice online julie smith

By now you’ve probably heard about SNL’s Leslie Jones, who’s been the victim of some horribly racist attacks online after she appeared in this summer’s “Ghostbusters”. She was in the news again yesterday, after news broke that her website had been hacked.

The hackers replaced the original material on her site with nude photos as well as posting personally identifiable information, including photos of her driver’s license and passport. I can’t imagine which is my worst nightmare: someone seeing photos of me naked, or someone seeing my driver’s license photo.
And last night at one of my speaking gigs I saw an elementary school bulletin board that read “be nice online”. We need more than bulletin boards, folks.

It’s got me thinking about parts of “digital citizenship” that need more attention. Yes, we do need to “be nice online”. But digital citizenship needs to go much deeper.

In no particular order, here are five things worth discussing when the digital citizenship topic surfaces:

1. Vulnerability:

Our students are primarily living their lives online, with little regard for privacy or vulnerability. We can preach to them all we want about colleges, recruiters and employers researching their profiles…but trust me. In the workshops I do, students nod their heads only out of courtesy. They won’t understand it until they have to.

How can we teach them that it’s impossible to get that toothpaste back into the tube? For one thing, we can teach them how to use Google Reverse Image Search. If a photo you have uploaded is being used by another website, this tool will tell you. The Google Reverse Image Search tool is how one of my students discovered that an Instagram post of hers was being used to advertise a lesbian sex party in a Craigslist post in Decatur, Illinois. Her Instagram account is now protected, and only people to whom she has given permission can view her photos. Sage advice for all.

2. Gullibility:

I am constantly surprised (sadly) how much fake information gets shared online by students and adults who should know better. There are many reasons we share and/or retweet fake materials. Maybe we WANT them to be true. Maybe we want to be the first to show something, so we don’t search for authenticity. Perhaps we don’t know HOW to search for authenticity. Our students need our help sifting through the online haystacks to determine what is true, meaningful and valid. Here are some tools that I have used in the past:

a. Snopes

“The Granddaddy of them All”, my automatic go-to when I see something that smells fishy. Snopes has been around since 1995 and gets over 300,000 visitors a day. What’s great about Snopes is that they explain their research and how they go about verifying info. Snopes was where I turned this summer, when I was convinced that this photo/video was a fake. I was wrong! It’s legit. And it officially freaked me out.
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b. Emergent

This is a newer-ish site, part of a research project at Columbia University. What’s neat about Emergent is that the rumors are organized by category. They even have a separate section for hoaxes and fake news. (You know how much I love fake news.) Like Snopes, you can sign up for email newsletters that include their latest findings. Sign up if you want to get depressed at how easily fake stuff flies around online.

c. Trendsmap

Say you see something on Twitter and you’re curious to see if anyone else is tweeting about that particular topic in that particular area. It doesn’t necessarily verify that what’s happening is legit, but if that topic is trending in that particular area, it might serve as a decent clue

d. Who Is

See something on a blog and you’re curious who the person is behind the curtain? Check out this website and simply enter the domain name. You’ll get the whole background of the site, including how long it’s been around and who pays for it. Just knowing THAT, in many cases, can help you validate or de-bunk info.

e. Urban Legends Site

If Snopes is like “Dateline”, then this Urban Legends site is like “Entertainment Tonight”. The info is similar but packaged in a more entertaining, HuffPost way.

f. Hoax Slayer

Hoax Slayer is similar to Snopes, but is organized a bit differently. It’s been around since 2003, which is longer than your long-lost Nigerian prince cousin has been trying to give you money. I like this site because it has special subcategories for Facebook as well as email scams.

g. Verification Junkie

Verification Junkie is an excellent collection of tools put together by my Twitter Brain Crush Josh Stearns (@jcstearns and https://stearns.wordpress.com/ ) He puts new tools on his site constantly, which means by midnight this entry of mine will already be outdated. Josh is brilliant and savvy – you need to bookmark this site if you are at all interested in deciphering what is bonafide and what is bogus.
With these tools as a starting point, there’s no reason for students to share, retweet or believe any suspicious information – no matter how juicy or compelling.

3. Our Value/Worth

During one of my middle-school workshops, a student told me that unless she gets 300 likes on one of her Instagram posts within a certain amount of time, she deletes the post. Do we realize the enormous pressure our students are under to get affirmation online – and much of it from strangers?

Think of it this way: when we were in school, there was a social hierarchy, right? Now that hierarchy is public and it’s quantitative. Ask any seventh grade girl how many followers/friends/likes she has, and she will be able to tell you immediately.

She will also be able to tell you the “popular” girls she follows who don’t follow her back. We knew, of course, that occasionally our school friends did things without us while we were growing up. Now? It’s rubbed in their faces.

The anxiety caused by this passive-aggressive online behavior cannot be overstated. There are birthday Instagram posts for some but not for others, selective tagging… the subtweet or the post featuring someone’s newly-ex boyfriend or girlfriend. You get the idea.

And if we had a bad day at school? We could come HOME. Their school day never ends. The anxiety and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) follows them home.

Where can we fit these discussions into digital citizenship? How can we help our students process all of this concern?

4. Echo Chambers

The online racial hate spewed at Leslie Jones was not born in a vacuum. In many of our social media environments, we exist in echo chambers where we communicate primarily with people who think, feel and vote as we do.

This polarization leads to a lack of empathy and the inability to possibly consider other viewpoints. All we hear is affirmation for our own beliefs, no matter how outdated and inappropriate some of those beliefs might be.

It’s important that we encourage our students to build diverse networks of people. How can we help them accomplish this, when many of us are guilty of the same?

One encouraging aspect of the Leslie Jones story is the outpouring of support that she has received online. The #standwithleslie tag was trending yesterday, and it represents a great “kindness vigilantism” that has emerged on Twitter lately. Do our students know the power of positivity when it can be used this way?

5. OPSEC

I asked my good friend Art La Flamme (@artlaflamme and http://artlaflamme.com/) about ways to keep these kinds of leaks from happening in the first place. Why him? He’s a recently retired Army intelligence officer who had a pretty amazing career. “It’s easy,” he tells me, “stay off the web. But short of that, it starts with strong passwords.”

Art is a huge proponent for using those big, ugly passwords that we all have no chance of remembering, and using a different one for everything we do. One Big Ugly Password for Facebook, but another Big Ugly Password for the credit union, and another one for the motor vehicle office. “Big, ugly passwords work,” he says.

The trick is in using a smart, secure password manager that not only generates Big Ugly Passwords, but that also securely manages them and keeps them securely ready for when we need them. There are a few apps that do this today; Art is a fan of 1Password (1password.com), but there are other great options out there, too.

There are also some great, common sense folks talking about security, passwords, and security online worth listening to today. These include the likes of Jessy Irwin (@jessysaurusrex, and https://jessysaurusrex.com/) and Bill Fitzgerald (@funnymonkey, and https://funnymonkey.com/) both whom write, tweet and talk not just about passwords or security, but how these things connect to education. Got questions? Ask some smart people.

Yes, we need to “be nice online”. But the vulnerability, gullibility, anxiety, echo chambers and security issues of the online world require us to go much, much deeper. Our students are counting on us.

Julie Smith Master the Media

Check out Julie Smith’s book Master the Media: How Teaching Media Literacy Can Save Our Plugged-in World on Amazon.

 

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