Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What Obama Taught Me About Digital Citizenship

The beginning: It started off with a simple tweet...On July 24, 2013 I innocently tweeted these two tweets inviting the President of the United State of America, Barack Obama, to visit my donut shop while he was coming to Chattanooga, Tennessee:

The results: While coming back from a technology conference in Atlanta, I was contacted by a local news reporter asking me if I would be willing to be interviewed about Chattanoooga's Julie Darling Donuts idea to create and name a donut after the President in honor of him coming to town. I said, "Yes!" In the video interview (which apparently is no longer available in archives) I said that it wasn't a political stance, it was honoring the office of the Presidency. I then discussed that I came up with the flavor, a chocolate donut with salted caramel icing, based on researching what President Obama's favorite flavor of candy was- salted caramel chocolates. At the most it was a 3 minute interview that set off a flurry of events that left me sick in bed for 3 full days.

And so I digress: Being in Atlanta for the three days leading up to my interview, I had no idea that a large portion of our elected officials in our city were taking the stand not to attend the President's speech at Amazon in Chattanooga. I had no idea that the subject was a ripe petri dish full of dissension and animosity. I was a small business owner of a young company thinking I could get some free publicity while honoring the office of the presidency. 

There were a few things the public didn't know about me: 
1. My political affiliation.
2. My more prominent role as an Instructional Technologist, not a donut maker.
3. My people pleasing nature.
4. My desire to not live a drama-filled life.
5. Basically anything about me as a person, period.

As soon as the interview was broadcast and posted on the website of the local station, as well as on their Facebook page, the craziness began. As someone that isn't interviewed on TV that often, the event went from a feeling of "pride" in thinking I might have helped our shop be recognized in the community a bit (although pride isn't really the right word, maybe the word is more like accomplished) to feeling a sense of dread, remorse, anxiety, and overwhelmedness. Over two simple twitter posts inviting the President to my donut shop? Yes.

Immediately, both the donut shop and myself were publicly ridiculed and attacked. I was attacked from every angle imaginable:
  •  First off by the republicans that wrote all over social media that they would never set foot in my shop again because of my choice, and man were they vocal. (Did I mention I didn't even vote for Obama?)
  •  Next there was a group that attacked me for my "money grubbing ways" by taking advantage of him coming to town for free publicity. (Obviously none of those people have ever been small business owners and haven't learned how hard it is to get a new business off the ground. According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. That's 80%, folks.) 
  • The one that rubbed me the worst, that my choice of flavor was a RACIAL thing because I chose a chocolate donut. I won't chase the rabbit down this trail but suffice it to say, I have never ever been accused of being racists before in my life.
The first day all this started happening I tried to defend myself but for every statement I made, someone out there misinterpreted it or it was just more fuel for the conversation. I had friends that actually tried to come to my rescue- posting positive things amongst all the negativity and even creating a Facebook event to show support for the donut shop and me. 

I was scared. I feared my very innocent desire to have the President come to my donut shop was going to close the doors of Chattanooga's Julie Darling Donuts forever. Now you may see this as extreme but let me just share SOME (a small percentage) of the comments I dealt with after the idea went NATIONAL not just on the Chattanooga local news networks:
Click on the link below and read the comments that are associated with it (but beware, they are NOT g-rated)

or this one: (same warning regarding to language).

So what did this Edutechie Donut Shop owner learn: THE VALUE OF TEACHING DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP! There is a lot of speculation out there that the term "Digital Citizenship" is just the latest educational buzz word but I believe in the need and I have lived it out. The digital world has allowed us to voice our opinions to the universe with a click of a device. In the past, if people had disagreed with a business owner, they might have written a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, they might have "called in" to a talk show to voice their concerns, they might have called or written a business owner BUT it would not have caused a bandwagon of responses in most cases. 

Today's society has to be taught the ramification of abusing social media and the Internet. We as educators, business owners, parents, church leaders, all have a responsibility to walk thru the field and glean the best and the worst examples and share it with our students, employees, children, etc. I spent two days throwing up in a toilet when I was able to get out of bed because of the hurtful, harmful words that were hurled at me for 3 full days. I also felt the outpouring of support from friends, acquaintances, and strangers that saw what was going on and felt it was an injustice. 

As an educator, I stand firm on the fact that we need to teach children to respect the office of the Presidency and to pledge allegiance to their country regardless of the political views of the current person in charge. Never in a million years did I think I would become my own greatest lesson to share with students on Digital Citizenship regarding digital communication, digital etiquette, digital rights and responsibilities, and digital security. Within this one event in my life, I have been given a platform to discuss 4 of the 9 elements of digital citizenship: ( If you are interested in me speaking to your students about this or looking for more information on Digital Citizenship, please contact me. I am passionate about this.

On an ending note: That was the best money making week the donut shop has ever had. We still make the donut- sans the name's just labeled "salted caramel chocolate donut" and it is still one of our best sellers. We are still open and we love all our customers.