Last week I received a direct message tweet from a former administrative colleague, asking me if I had seen the “gangnam style” video that was dubbed “the worst video on the entire internet.” He told me he saw it when the link was tweeted by someone with over 25,000 followers… so I figured it was going to be viewed by a handful of people.
But why did he send the link to me?
I was out and about with a newborn singing melodiously in his carseat and didn’t have a chance to view the video at that time, but when I glanced at the video’s thumbnail, I recognized three of my administrative colleagues from our district’s high school:
Reaction #1: These three are dedicated professionals and do have a great sense of humor, but why in the world would they create a gangnam style parody video and post it on YouTube?
When I got home I was able to view the video in its entirety and realized it was a student-created video. At the time, it had around 45,000 views. (As I write this post, it has over 1 million).
And then, I began reading the comments.
Hateful, hurtful, horrid comments. Many of which were written by children. (Yes, high school students, you are children. Embrace it.)
“The worst video on the entire internet?” Hardly. Could it have used some polishing? Sure. But it clearly was a video that the students put a lot of thought into, and its production was supported by the school community at large. The student incorporated the school’s “Spartan Way” ideals and the messages shared were positive ones.
Reaction #2: Please, God, don’t let the student who made this video take these comments personally.
(Kind of impossible, right?)
As the video went viral, it found its way to various media sources, including the Huffington Post, MSN, and even Tosh.0′s Facebook page, which, if you know anything about Tosh.0, you know he doesn’t feature the world’s most dazzling internet video footage. The local news reported on the story, and the comments shared on this article were positive overall and supported the student and school for their creative efforts, which was nice to see.
Reaction #3: This, too, shall pass. But at what cost?
Like any internet meme, the meteoric rise to attention can be overwhelming and, in the case of a meme swarmed with negative attention, alarming for those at the center of the hullabaloo. When we create, publish, and share, we open ourselves up to a world of other people’s reactions: praise, criticisms, attention. Sometimes the feedback is unwarranted. It can be constructive. It can be destructive.
Reaction #4: We need to do better.
Now a myriad of questions are swimming through my sleep-deprived brain. How do we continue ensuring our students develop into respectable digital citizens? Can we help students understand the impact a hurtful comment can have, as well as the power of constructive criticism? When we talk of cyberbullying, particularly with today’s high school students, does it just go in one ear and out the other? When posting children’s work online (whether school-related projects or not), how do we help creators understand and use the types of feedback they may receive? Are we helping children develop into respectful, caring, empathetic human beings who can resist the urge to use profanity and hateful speech when remarking on the work of others? (I wondered how many of the commenters, particularly those who attend the same school, would consider sharing their comments in a face-to-face conversation with the video creator. Is it easier to be disrespectful online?) How are we addressing these issues with our youngest students? With our pre-school children? How are we educating parents and communities about the types of online engagement and conversations that their children will be involved in, and how are we modeling the importance of respectful online dialogue? Are the teachers and administrators who helped promote the completion of the project now second-guessing allowing students to take risks and the ways in which technology is integrated into the curriculum?
There are many more questions to ask and attempt to answer when it comes to children and digital citizenship. As school leaders, we need to have a heightened awareness of how to help our school communities thrive in an increasingly public world.