Digital Citizenship and Online Activism

This week’s topic really had my brain buzzing. Because I do not have much of an online personal or professional presence, I haven’t given that much thought into the importance of social media activism. Before I got into dissecting that, I needed to get my head into what I thought about digital citizenship and the role I play.  I read Dr. Katia Hildebrandt’s blog posts What Kind of (Digital) Citizen? and In Online Spaces, Silence Speaks Louder than Words, and a few things stood out to me. First, I agree with her in that, even in 2023, we emphasize face to face active citizenship over digital citizenship (Hildebrandt, 2017).  I wonder why has it been this way for so long?  When can we expect this to change? I also agree that it seems the focus is on fear-mongering children about their online presence, and “instead of scaring kids offline or telling them what not to do, we should support them in doing good, productive, and meaningful things online” (Hildebrandt, 2017).  Teaching students how to be safe and protect themselves online is important, but it is only one piece of digital citizenship. There is a larger context to consider, and I think educators do hold a responsibility to help students learn about and recognize this online context. However, this also requires educators to understand it as well, and I’m not so sure we all do. Is it for lack of wanting? Is it for lack of caring? It is for lack of knowledge? Fear? I’m not so sure there’s one right answer.  Personally, I don’t have one direct answer.

Are educators using digital spaces effectively? I wonder: if educators are using social media solely for resources, does it create the perception that teaching is not about building community or connecting with others around our common humanity? Does it create the perception that teaching is about avoiding controversy, and staying out of things that are going on in local or global communities? Teachers and teacher-leaders, who are in a position of power and privilege, have a considerable responsibility to be continually learn about and understand the multiplicity of voices, experiences, intersectionalities, and inequities that exist in the classroom and the larger global context. Therefore, intentional, authentic conversations about social justice issues online is worthwhile because it demonstrates allyship, which I think is incredibly important as educators.

Megan Carnegie’s article states that “A 2020 study from the UK Safer Internet Centre showed 34% of 8-to-17-year-olds say the internet has inspired them to take action about a cause and 43% say it makes them feel their voices matter”. This is incredible.  If digital spaces are allowing students to feel empowered, imagine what could happen if educators aligned with them in doing just the same. So, yes, if the above statistic is the reality, online social media activism is clearly meaningful and worthwhile, and it is entirely possible to have productive conversations about social justice online as long as it is intentional and authentic.

Stan Mitchell states the following: “If you claim to be someone’s ally, but aren’t getting hit by the stones thrown at them, you aren’t standing close enough.”

Perhaps educators (me) need to lean into the discomfort of becoming an active online citizen, challenge the status quo, and start becoming allies with our students in digital spaces.

1 Comment

  1. Janeen Clark

    “Perhaps educators (me) need to lean into the discomfort of becoming an active online citizen, challenge the status quo, and start becoming allies with our students in digital spaces.” I felt this way this week as well, Laura. I am not super active on social media to begin with, and the idea of shouting my thoughts scares me. I made it a goal this week (well, it’s a forced goal mandated by the class, so really, I just made it a goal that I would actually do) to try and retweet some things, and maybe even post MY OWN TWEET. I did it, it was uncomfortable, but… small steps? It’s ok to be uncomfortable?

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