We’ve all seen how transformative the Internet can be. Today, students can reach a hand across a keyboard and have access to a whole new universe of knowledge. The Internet can empower kids to communicate, create and consume creative content in ways never before possible, and help better prepare them for the jobs and industries of the future. As the opportunities the Internet affords has grown, so too have the conversations around how we help our children take advantage of these opportunities by becoming ethical, responsible and resilient digital citizens.
That is why the conversations at last week’s Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) 9th Annual Conference in Washington, DC was so important. As an organization, FOSI’s objective is to use education, engagement, industry best practices and good digital parenting skills to make the online world a safer one for kids and families. This is a goal we at CCI share, and why I was especially proud to moderate a panel on cyber ethics and digital civility. To help us explore these issues, I was joined by leading experts at the forefront of translating ideas into action, and action into results.
Cyber ethics is a broad topic and can cover everything from cyber bullying and cyber education, and as demonstrated by the panel, it is also about helping kids exercise ethical behavior when it comes to privacy, piracy, and creative content. As a part of our discussion, David Polgar, a TED Talk leader and ethicist, asked us to think about how we should teach our kids to act ethically in a society that’s increasingly faceless and frictionless, and in a world where kids may often be lacking a sense of empathy and responsibility.
Panelist Marsali Hancock’s organization, iKeepSafe, has been a leader in helping to answer these questions. In our conversation, Marsali highlighted that the tools iKeepSafe develops have been designed to support kids in the broader digital environment, moving beyond what she terms as basic “survival.” Literacy tools also need to help kids develop key skills and competencies that will allow them to thrive in the online environment. Importantly, Marsali also talked about her work to fill one of the missing legs in a comprehensive digital ethics curriculum – helping kids understand what they need to be thinking about as active consumers and creators of digital content.
Frank Gallagher, Executive Director of Cable in the Classroom, further elevated the idea that internet ethics should be the same as every day ethics. He discussed the ways that the behaviors, beliefs and values that we live by in “real” life should also transfer over to the online space, such as being respectful and responsible, and making good decisions about the rules and the culture of the community you’re taking part in.
Chris Prieb, the founder of CommunitySift, argued that that just because we have the power to do something online doesn’t mean we should. Instead he outlined why we need to help our kids become critical thinkers, able to express empathy, ask the right questions, and become role models among their peers online.
As the panel engaged in a back and forth on the issues, one theme became clear – that the old fear-based tactics for teaching kids about digital citizenship have proven to be ineffective, and that research and experience shows that providing kids, parents, and teachers with tools for education, engagement, and smarter decision-making can often be more effective. As the leader of an organization focused on educating and engaging consumers about their use of copyrighted materials, I take this lesson to heart.
The panel’s law enforcement representatives, Sergeant Tom Rich and officer Holly Lawrence, talked about empowering their colleagues, kids and parents to be “up-standers, not bystanders,” and the power of social norming to shape behavior. In any area of digital citizenship, it’s clear that helping “up-standers” become “peer-to-peer value sharers” can be an important part of solving many of the online challenges we face.
The conference and the panel were inspiring, and I know that by working with people like our panelists and the members of CCI, we can continue to develop the tools necessary to encourage peer-to-peer value sharing by kids and adults alike. Together we can build a network effect that leads to positive role models, helps kids become ethical content creators and consumers, and empowers them to become good digital citizens that take full advantage of the potential of the Internet.