I found the topic of this debate to really strike home as it made me think of my experiences in Nunavut.
Every summer in Nunavut tourists pile off the cruise ships – we’ll okay we’re not talking hundreds of tourists, but enough to be noticed in communities with populations as small as a 150. The tourists step onto the shore, camera in hand, ready to capture the image they have in their mind of what Arctic life is like for an Inuk. The tourists are always surprised by the openness they experience from the people they encounter on the streets – those who have not hidden their kids and themselves away inside their houses that is, as most prefer to do when the tourists arrive. The tourists, oblivious to the fact that the warm smiles are often merely the cultural expectation of tunnganarniq, take the smiles as a sign of acceptance as they pick up Inuit children and position them in front of a drying polar bear skin so that they can capture that picture they’ve been imagining.
I’m sure that Facebook accounts are bombarded with images like this during tourist season – only ones with kids that have been carefully positioned as props. This scenario happens again and again to Inuit as their lives are manipulated and shared without their consent for the whole world to see. Had I not had the opportunity to hear the frustration of my friends as they shared these stories, I may not have become so conscious of the responsibility we have as digital citizens to think about what we post of others’ online and how it can affect them.
Consider the controversy that arose this fall when Dominic Gagnon, a francophone filmmaker released a documentary he made called, Of the North.
The documentary was comprised of publicly shared YouTube videos that people, mostly Inuit living in the circumpolar Arctic, had posted of themselves. Gagnon, who has never been to the Arctic, defended the film as being a representation of how people portray themselves online. However, members of the Inuit community viewed the film as a racist act that sought to portray the negative stereotypes of a marginalized people for one’s own gain. The documentary received much attention – from interviews with the filmmaker to commentary written by other filmmakers.
The publishing of others’ posted information from YouTube to Gagnon’s documentary, sparked a lot of debate about ethics and digital footprints. Did Gagnon have an ethical responsibility for how he was portraying the people in his film or does the fact that the video footage he used was shared publicly by its originators absolve him of any responsibility? Does he have an ethical responsibility to consider the ramifications of perpetuating negative stereotypes of a marginalized group? What ethical responsibility do we or do we not have for how we represent others online? This relates to educators who engage in sharing the work of students online. Also, as educators link students with others who have an online presence, is there a responsibility to know what their digital ethics are?
So, where have these experiences and the debate left me in terms of my opinion about whether the openness and sharing in schools is unfair to our kids?
I find that I agree with the disagree side on this one. Openness and sharing in schools is not unfair to students, but I would add that the sharing must adhere to ethical guidelines to ensure that the rights and dignity of the students and others are not compromised. Given the experiences that I spoke of above you might be wondering why I find myself supporting the disagree side of this debate. What these experiences have taught me is the importance of learning how to be an ethical digital citizen. Had social media been around when Gagnon and the Arctic tourists were in school, perhaps they may have thought twice about their online actions and the impacts that these actions can have on others.
Given that we live in a digitally connected world, and that is not going to change anytime soon, it is very important for children to learn how to be digital citizens. For me, being a digital citizen involves learning how to manage one’s own digital footprint and how to make ethical choices when sharing online. There are many resources available online for teaching children how to build a positive online identity and how to become a digital citizen but I was surprised by the lack of discussion in these articles about the impacts of sharing of images, information or work of other people. The focus of teaching children about digital citizenship seems to be all about keeping the child safe. But what about the role the child plays in keeping others’ and their digital material safe? While copyright is a suggested topic for teaching digital citizenship, I have not found a resource that suggests personalizing copyright so that students can begin to understand the impacts their digital actions can have on the lives of others. We are missing a crucial part of digital citizenship when we do not help children develop this type of empathy.
The disagree team spoke of the need for educators and parents to model, discuss, apply, and share while teaching children how to be a digital citizen. Let’s bring ethics and empathy into this conversation so that we can help to ensure that the digital world of the future is safe for everyone.