Seriously, Now I’m Scared?!

Admittedly, this is an annoying topic for me. In my work as a technology integrationist, fear of the internet is one of the hardest battles I fight.

That said, I have actually come to understand the fear much more after reading this week’s articles. Infact, I find myself now way over-analyzing my social media posts and how they might be perceived by others, going so far as to give up and not post at all. Just as I thought I was beginning to be more comfortable with my online voice and brand, I’ve been scared into overthinking what other’s might think about me. If I can be scared into not posting, what will these messages do to our youth who are already struggling with the obsession of what other’s think of them.

Like I argued in my last post, First Impressions, this is one more reason the social media rhetoric needs to be mostly positive with firm warnings sprinkled throughout.

The ‘biggies’ that I will be spinning into positive messages and working into the digital citizenship curriculum for our middle school and high school students are:

  • Where the World Can Get to Know You (vs. There’s No Such Thing as Private Online):
    Photo by Paško Tomić via Flickr
    Selfies are not the only way to “show” yourself.  Photo by Paško Tomić via Flickr
    • Positives: There are many ways to build your personal brand that can help you as a student, and later as an adult, by building, learning from, and contributing to a professional learning network.
    • Warnings: Discretion and responsible use is needed to protect your personal information and the personal information of others. When you post possibly damaging photos on social media sites, even when the settings are ‘private,’ there is no guarantee that your parents, teachers, or possible future employers won’t see it – so protect yourself and your friends by showing restraint and always getting permission before posting pictures.
  • Promote Your Unique and Creative Thoughts and Achievements (vs. your reputation is at stake)
    • Positives: Promoting your causes and passions indirectly promotes you as good person. Ever have a conversation with someone who talked nonstop about themselves? This is no different from the person on social media who posts their every move, meal, haircut, hiccup, etc. To improve your reputation, as Ben Parr explains, try posting about causes and issues that you are passionate about, rather than about yourself.

      Photo by @kjackemerson
      A friend of mine doing volunteer work she cares about. Posting and bringing awareness to an issue shows what a great person she is. Photo used with permission by @kjackemerson
    • Warnings: There are sites like SimpleWash that can help you delete posts, but once things are out online, they are nearly impossible to completely remove. Also, there really is no difference between your online self and your real self – both reputations have the potential to help or harm your real self’s goals.
  • The Internet is Getting to Know You (vs. your clicks are being watched, followed, and recorded – Yikes!)
    • Positives: HTTP Cookies make it possible for me to go back to my GAP online cart and still have my items; authentication cookies are useful for a website to know that it’s really you logging in; tracking cookies are used to try to make the ads on your browser relevant. Sites like the New York Times and Facebook use the data to personalize your experience and make reading suggestions, explains Ethan Zuckerman in his article The Internet’s Original Sin. Although there are ways to turn off your devices’ GPS tracking, your calls, posts, and electronic money transactions make it possible for others to track your location – which does freak me out a little too – until I think about the usefulness of tracking down kidnappers or other dangerous people.

      Photo by Georgie Sharp via Flickr
      Yes, this part is a maze and it’s hard to know what’s around the corner. Photo by Georgie Sharp via Flickr
    • Warnings: One of the biggest risks, as Ethan also points out, is that a personalized web experience can make it hard to keep an open mind and learn from other perspectives. Be on the lookout for anyone or anything that tries to pigeonhole you and keeps you from discovering and learning more. For convenience and customization we agree to companies’ conditions and allow them to collect information about us. Check out this infographic to compare who is tracking what. Educate yourself and read the privacy policies before just clicking ‘agree’. Look into alternatives like DuckDuckGo, which as privacy becomes more and more of a hot topic, there are likely to be more of.
  • Respectful Agreements (vs. Beware of your “friends”’ phone cameras!)
    • Positives: Social media has made it possible to keep in touch with or even meet new friends. It’s also made it possible to learn from other experts around the world.
    • Warnings: As a respectful and caring friend and user of social media, agreements need to be understood and followed. Before you photograph, post and tag other people, it is essential that you get their permission. And, just like with other social pressures, it is okay to say no to having your photo taken if you don’t think it will reflect you positively. After all, your future job could be at stake.


First Impressions

Photo credit Dalaganyc via Tumblr
Photo credit Dalaganyc via Tumblr

I love watching What Not to Wear. Stacy and Clinton, show after show, teach clients the importance of dressing appropriately for the situation, while still reflecting their unique personalities. It is obvious at the end of each episode that the client’s restyle has given her the confidence needed to go after new jobs and social situations.

There are many parallels of Stacy and Clinton’s philosophies to an ‘online look’. Yes, you should still be you – in fact part of a great look is when your sense of style and uniqueness shines through.  No, it’s not vain to care what you look like because people are making judgements that could help or hinder your life and career.

Check Your Reflection. Photo credit courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Check Your Reflection. Photo credit courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In our physical and virtual lives, (No… one is not more real than the other) what you do, what you say, and how you look help people understand you. The Science of First Impressions explains that humans are genetically hard wired to make quick decisions. In the first few moments that we meet someone in person or online, what do we have to go on? Nothing but their looks. We naturally make sense of what we see by categorizing them with other people who we know, that look the same way.

Physical and virtual first impressions will get you nowhere or everywhere. Jason Cass tells the story of how his online presence and well groomed personal brand got him a job in several times of need. On the other side of this coin – how about Trevor Noah taking over for John Stewart? Not many knew who Trevor was, but after a few unfavorable Tweets resurfaced, not many are in favor of the replacement. Unfair? Probably, but that’s the way it is as Arthur Chu explains:

All it takes is one of your old tweets going viral for Twitter to transform from a real-time conversation into a courtroom dissection, where a dialogue, a defense, or even a wholesale apology comes to seem pointless because the real-time conversation is gone—no one’s even listening to you anymore, they’re just linking the old tweet and adding their pile-on comments to it again and again and again. 

While many adults would read the warnings and choose not to join Twitter and social media just in case, our students probably won’t. They will be on social media regardless. That’s why I love the idea of telling students how social media and the internet can get them a step ahead, similar to the lesson plan “Would You Hire You?” Students are very used to the “DO NOTs,” and the warnings of the destructive potential of the internet. Think of their surprise if you flipped the message into a constructive one. Building a personal learning network and positive personal brand can link you to people and opportunities all over the world. This type of online look takes thought, planning, caution, creativity and restraint – just like your physical look.



Death by Comparisons

Comparisons are crippling and recently I have been in a few situations where either myself or another person was completely ignorant of the truth because the information gained from comparisons wasn’t accurate.

I have several friends who have decided to close their Facebook accounts because the constant stream of highlights from other peoples’ lives makes them feel inadequate. An article featured on Fast Company, “Want to be happier? Stop Comparing Yourself to What You See on Social Media,” makes the point that a different perspective is needed when viewing the success of others compared to your journey. You can set goals by “realize[ing] that the comparison is not about the person, but a tool to tell you what you want in life” and letting it be an inspiration.

For me professionally, I think this is great advice. When reading through other CoETaIL-ers blogs, instead of thinking what their doing that I’m not, I need to look at them as my community of colleagues who are little by little teaching me how to be a 21st century educator. Including myself as one of the ‘nodes’ in this community also means that I too have, and must, make contributions.

These hesitations of mine make me wonder if my students last year felt the same way when blogging and sharing our thoughts with other classrooms. At the time I felt that the pressure to present their best writing to ‘strangers’ created much needed accountability, however maybe I should have taken the time to dig a bit deeper into how they felt about the transparency of their thoughts. As I create and align the digital citizen course work this year, I am going to keep in mind the lessons around community and the reasons for blogging. If we can teach our youngest contributors that being a part of a digital network is about collaborating, learning and sharing with the community – maybe they won’t be as fearful to proudly write about the journey, no matter how far along, because there are lessons others could learn.


A downside noted in the resource Social Networking and Peer Relationships is that the “use of social networking sites has been reported as leading to lower psychological well-being for some girls (Devine, & Lloyd, 2012).” Also noted is that “kids may compare themselves unfavorably to others when reviewing online profiles; (online profilers have been found to overly represent positive and under-represent negative aspects of their lives) (Qiu, Lin, Leung, & Tov, 2012).” These warnings emphasize the need to teach about social media, digital footprints, and network communities in school.

When researching tips to revise my digital citizenship units, in answer to the cautions above, I came across a post on Getting Smart. Amos Goldie listed these among his top 5 tips to Protecting Your Digital Footprint:

  • Periodically check whether the ONLINE “you” matches the REAL WORLD “you.” Like checking our real world appearance in the mirror every once in a while, it’s important to know how other people see and judge the online “you.” One of our assignments directs students to post “What three words come to mind when you see my online profile?” and then analyze the responses they collect. Often, students are surprised by the image they are putting out there. Be mindful of how you represent yourself.
  • Never compare your REAL life to other peoples so-called “perfect” ONLINE lives. We all put our best foot forward online – it’s human nature, and it’s called “curating” your identity. Unfortunately, when sensitive teenagers find their life doesn’t measure up to their peer’s shiny, happy “curated” lives, they can suffer social media-induced loneliness and depression. Don’t envy others’ seeming happiness – it’s often a mirage.

Most people consider their devices and social media for only social purposes, when surprisingly there is so much more to be gained by using them. Vicki Davis, in her post A Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom, gives a tough love message about the necessity of teaching social media best practices to keep your students from damaging their digital footprints and reputations.

Between my own mixed emotions about sharing and learning, as well as the many resources I have read, I have come across an important element that I missed when previously teaching digital citizenship to my students. I focused so much on the positives of being a part of an online learning community, that I overlooked the emotional implications of that membership. It’s an important lesson in community and collaboration where some (myself included!) might have to adjust their ‘perspectacles‘ in order to consider themselves part of the learning community, flaws and all.