Link High-Tech Skills to Good Judgment ~ An Essay

This is a REPOST from an editorial "Compass" piece in the Anchorage Daily News.

 Why are people making such poor choices with technology? The latest ethical episode involving Congressman Weiner is a prime example of misusing technology. Another is Sarah Palin's use of taxpayer computers to communicate personal email messages. In addition to these abuses, there have been numerous cases of cyberbullying, identity theft, Internet predators, invasions of privacy and violence related to social technology.

Common Sense Media, www., recently published a study on social networking and the extent and potential impact of this medium on your child's life. Findings include: "Just 16 percent of parents think their child has shared information they would not normally share with the public (actually 28 percent have)" and "23 percent of parents say their children log in to social networking sites more than once a day" (51 percent do). Parents do have a lot to learn about these modes of communication.

The evolution of Internet social networking technologies (e.g., Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook) has enhanced the interactivity, collaboration, and communication of ideas in numerous ways, from mobile learning to human computer interaction in virtual worlds. People are not only sharing ideas through technology, they are sharing proprietary information and this has many ramifications.

The social networking site Facebook (over 1 billion users worldwide) recently updated its privacy policy to help users better understand their rights without confusing legal jargon. But how many people understand that their "likes" and "fan" memberships are means by which Facebook can sell demographic data to marketers?

Similarly, anyone can publish a web page or blog ranting about some racial supremacist manifesto or other prurient interests, and some viewers will regard this false propaganda as fact. Can impressionable minors -- or adults -- distinguish between a diatribe in a blog based on opinion and research based on rigorous methods or determine if an Internet hoax is invalid? How should parents proceed? Denial only perpetuates ignorance.

When we assist a teenager in thinking critically and understanding the consequences of technological abuse, we promote rational thought. When we tell kids they cannot access a website or video and offer no explanation, this leaves them confused and frustrated. After questioning the decision, the child is usually more curious to discover. After all, human behavior is naturally curious.

What are the copyright and legal implications for illegally using Internet content such as MP3 files? Billions of dollars are being stolen in violation of copyright law and the piracy of software. Are you aware of your rights and responsibilities here?

Free video websites such as Youtube. com,, and Joost. com provide free video content. The use of video has made it possible to view distant events and to experience the reality of our world. While these sites are mostly for entertainment purposes, there is much educational content available. This approach is an integral part of TEACH-nology, whereby students learn, construct, and interact with computers and collaborate with others. This is the hi-tech world they inhabit -- 21st-Century learning. However, there is the much potential for abuse.

On June 9 2012, two young adults in Anchorage pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of an Alaska Native after they filmed their despicable and unprovoked harassment and threats and posted the video on YouTube. The perpetrators will pay the consequences, potentially time in prison. This event should serve as a teachable moment. If we don't seize the moment, we are missing a great opportunity to teach a key skill for using rational decision-making to promote a conscientious learner who uses social networking tools with greater competence.

If the child creates a defamatory website, video, or blog there will be consequences. Life is about making choices. Once a risqué photo is uploaded to the Internet it is there to stay ... on some server(s) ... somewhere, forever.

As parents and educators it is our responsibility to not hover, micromanage, or censor but to answer questions, serve as models of appropriate behavior, and be proactive about digital information, appropriate Internet communication, and privacy. Feel free to share this with your kids and discuss ... preferably f2f.