Monday, March 4, 2019

Viral Messaging: Putting Digital Citizenship to the Test

The following post is by Alex Podchaski, and while I have never met him in person, we are part of each other's professional learning network. When the MOMO Challenge reared its ugly head last week, I reached out on Twitter to other technologists to find out what they were hearing and what their thoughts were. Alex's thoughts were spot on with mine and I asked him if he would guest blog on the subject for me. I'm thankful for his insights and for being a sounding board. This is his post and the original can be found here.

Turning A Viral Hoax Into A Lesson on Internet Safety

Over the last week, you have probably seen some reference to the “Momo Challenge,”
hidden messages in Youtube videos, and calls for technology companies to police their
systems to protect kids. You have probably also seen a number of reports of things being
a hoax that should be ignored. As always, the truth lies somewhere in between, and we
wanted to help you sort things out along with giving you some practical advice on how to
deal with these types of reports in the future.

As educators, we spend a great deal of time trying to figure out the best way to prepare
our students for the challenges they will face, both in the real and the digital worlds.
Many times we have to deal with the theoretical, as we can’t always create the proper
real-world scenarios to take all the aspects of instruction into account during a given
situation. For many of us, we have embraced the concepts of digital citizenship,
trying to help our communities navigate the difference between behaviors and
actions online and in real life. We have created great models, listed out recommended
behavior, taught interesting lessons, and sometimes even given badges when we
have been successful. But the real test of what we are teaching is not how we respond
to the manufactured situation, but how we then address something that happens for real.

Case Study: What is the #MoMoChallenge?
There have been reports for the last 18 months about the #MomoChallenge. It started
with reports of someone or something luring students via social media accounts on
Facebook and WhatsApp to do harm to themselves and others under threat of public
humiliation and physical intimidation. Reports were made that students had harmed
themselves. Over the last week, it became a video that was being embedded in
popular children's videos on YouTube. Over the weekend, the media has picked
up on what has really happened and gotten to the real part of the story - it’s not real.
Here are a few sources we find credible on the topic:

Unfortunately, these reports come after many local news organizations and school districts
had already bought into the fear, uncertainty and doubt caused by reports on social media,
encouraged by media celebrities posting and reposting without knowing all the facts.
Part of the challenge of being an educator is taking the time to evaluate what we discover,
and then choosing the appropriate response. It is not always easy, and we have a lot to
learn as well. A friend posted the following article online after a long discussion by a
number of us on twitter regarding the whole situation.

Those who choose actions that attempt to negatively influence children are truly
despicable. The various challenges and stories that appear online about suggestions being
made to kids about trying to disappear, or cause harm to themselves, or to act out in foolish
ways make me mad. But as horrible as those behaviors are, are we really doing what we
need to in order to minimize their influence on our students and children? Whenever one
of these stories makes the news or makes it around the rumor mill from parents,
other teachers, or social media, I try to apply the same rules we teach our students about
how to determine what is really going on and how to appropriately respond.

Questions to Ask Yourself
  • Is the source authentic?
When we search for those items to watch or use, are we paying attention to where they
come from? I love Marvel movies, and I love watching the trailers and shorts as they are
released online. But each time I go looking for them, I have to choose between those who
are copying the material for their own benefit and the official sources of the clips and
trailers. I know I can trust the official versions to be appropriate and only have
trusted content. I cannot make the same claim for the random account that copies or
changes the video for their own purposes.

  • Is the content appropriate?
The classic definition of, “I know it when I see it … ,” applies here. We are all tempted to
watch that video that reveals the secret about someone or something. Or maybe we can’t
wait for that movie to come out on DVD/streaming so we find that copy out there online.
Sometimes, we just need that child to be quiet, so we let them watch something (anything)
to get five minutes of peace and quiet. We may all do this, but we know that it is not
always appropriate, and we need to take a moment to determine what our real motivation
and response should be. There is an internet phenomenon called the Rick Roll.
You can check out the whole story on Wikipedia, but it was all about includingRick Astley’s
“Never Gonna Give You Up” video, lyrics, images or music in any type of internet post.
Videos were posted that purported to reveal one thing, but the viewer was faced with the
video of Rick Astley shortly after starting. There are people who will post anything just to
get the views and increase their income potential. We need to be discerning when choosing which videos we watch.

  • Do I really need to share?
Just by being on social media, I receive all kinds of warning, updates, stories, breaking
news, and other notifications that demand that I share them with my connections.
It ranges from outbreaks of illnesses to political messages to online petitions that
demand that I repost them. I ignore almost all of it. Why? In most cases, if I have followed
the previous two steps, the originating organization, or the intent of the poster, almost
always is something that I deem appropriate, and most of the time the primary source
of the original message is not from anyone or any group I would recognize as an authority
on the message they are posting. I value my online community, both personally and 
professionally. If I post something, it becomes part of my online reputation. I am not willing
to risk my reputation for just anyone or anything. It is hard enough to maintain credibility in
face to face relationships. Online is harder. We should always think before we post.
In most cases, it will save us from a world of grief.

  • Walking the Walk
As adults, it’s important to understand that we need to be as responsible online as we
expect our children and our technology companies to be. We need to stay aware of the
potential threats and dangers, but we also need to know when to react, and when to be
patient and dig deeper. By sitting and talking with your children about internet safety
and the rules you’ve established as parents, it will help guide them toward appropriate
content online. Give them limits, but also make sure you are aware of what is out there
and what they are watching. By modeling good behavior, it may even help you
remain accountable, as well.

Alex Podchaski, a Certified Education Technology Leader, has been Oak Knoll’s Chief Technology Officer since 2008. In 2015, he was named to Huffington Post’s inaugural list of the Top Social Tech Leaders in K-12 education as someone who has embraced social media to exchange ideas and solutions in the ever-evolving educational landscape. He earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Rutgers University, where he would also earn a master’s in strategic management. Mr. Podchaski also taught as an adjunct faculty member at the university, where he built Rutgers’ first network operations center. You can follow him on Twitter at @ajpodchaski.

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