I recently read an educational article online. The article addressed race in education and the topic could be considered controversial. Regardless of the topic, the comment section is what concerned me the most. This blog is me reflecting via my writing and I’m doing it publicly today!
Each comment seemed to express opinions as facts that should be true for everyone. The writers, some educators and some non-educators, were writing their opinions and angrily attacking the opinions of others as being wrong, racist, and/or disrespectful, while also being disrespectful. One non-educator wrote, in his vehement disagreement with the author’s claims, “Shut up and teach, dammit!”. Other used name-calling, blatantly telling me they were stupid or wrong.
I read this article a few hours ago, but I can’t stop thinking about the comments. I rarely dive into the comment section anywhere, whether it’s on a public article or a friend’s Facebook or a celebrity’s Instagram post, because Internet trolls are real. The anonymity of the Internet seems to have taken the humanity out of some people. With the veil of an unknown screen name, people often write things I have never heard one person say to another face-to-face. As much as I love social media as a way to tell a story, to make global connections, and to share resources, this side of social media saddens me.
As I thought more about this, I read a few other articles on the topic. This one has a funny, yet sadly true, list of 10 types of Internet trolls. I saw a few of these types come out in the comment section of just one article I read this morning. Then I read this article, from Psychology Today, about why people troll online. I agree with many of the reasons listed, especially the ideas of anonymity and being in an echo chamber where you assume your opinion will be supported by the majority.
These articles offer up some advice on how to address this behavior. The most common recommendations are to ignore/ not respond and to block or report abusive comments. While I think these actions can be appropriate in many situations, this doesn’t address the underlying culture, where this is becoming the norm. As an educator, I want to dig deeper.
We talk about, and sometimes teach our students, digital citizenship. This is often a lesson isolated from the true realities of social media. But our students know this goes on, as they often deal with cyberbullying and vicious online comments. These are the questions I’m wondering about right now:
- How are we helping our students, and their families, to use social media as a positive way to impact society?
- How are we teaching students that words matter, and that anonymity does not take away humanity?
- How are we teaching each other to be critical consumers of information without attacking different opinions?
- How are we considering multiple perspectives?
- How are we using a rhetorical approach in our reading and writing?
- When do we have the courage to point out comments that are inappropriate?
- When is it appropriate to address these types of comments?
These are just some of my thoughts today. I’d love to hear yours (as long as they are nice!). In case you are interested in the particulars, the article I read that spurred on these thoughts is linked here.