Watching Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk, I couldn’t help but think back to high school. when in I was in grade nine, an eighth-grade girl sent naked pictures to her boyfriend, who sent them to everyone he knew. She came to our school the next year, but a good majority of the school had seen her naked before she even became a student. She would be the first of so many girls I knew or had heard of that had made the same mistake, and although many would pretend it didn’t bother them, I knew how I would feel if it were me who had done the same thing. Every one of these girls was like Monica Lewinsky, nothing but fodder for an internet willing to rip anyone and everyone apart.
I grew up in the digital age, and I went to high school during a time where the internet and cell phones were firmly set as our means of communication. I was in tenth grade when Amanda Todd, a girl living in Port Coquitlam killed herself in her family home because of cyberbullying. I witnessed, even after her death, memes featuring Amanda’s picture, with phrases like “Make a mess of life? Drink some bleach”. My peers and I learned early on that no matter how unbearably tragic your situation might be, people on the internet will always be ruthless in their bullying on the internet.
We learned to watch what we posted, and counted the likes we got on every picture, deleting the ones that we didn’t think got “enough”. What we didn’t learn, was how to navigate all of this. From my own experience, there was no class that taught students how to interact on the internet. I do remember the terrible ads and posters put up that were supposed to help prevent us from sexting or bullying online, but this was not a proactive approach — students my age were already doing these things. We were told not to bully online, or sext, but we weren’t taught how to build a positive online presence. And while we weren’t learning about how to defend ourselves through a positive online presence, the notion of the keyboard warrior grew more and more each day.
So as a teacher, what do I do with this? I believe it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all teachers to educate their students not only about the repercussions of posting anything to the internet, but how to behave in the online world. It is very likely that every single one of our students will have a digital identity, and so it is up to us to ensure that they don’t make the same mistakes that our generation did.
We learned the hard way, but our students don’t have to. We won’t ever be able to stop students from having online identities, whether or not we choose to use those in the classroom. The fact is that although the internet can be devastating for some, for so many others the internet and their digital footprint are a large, positive part of their life in the form of relationships, both professional and not. Having a positive online identity can be a wonderful thing, and it is up to us to ensure that students are able to navigate the internet in a way that they can build a positive digital footprint, while avoiding the pitfalls of the internet.