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.

6 Replies to “Reactions.”

  1. Lyn, it occurs to me as I read this that anyone who has experienced the effort and pain that comes with any creation, no matter how “bad” it might turn out, would have a great deal more appreciation for what these kids accomplished and would be less negative.

    An argument for even more creative opportunities in our schools perhaps.

  2. Lyn,

    I see two lessons from this story and neither one are easy ones to learn. The first, is teaching our students to handle criticism which is sadly something most adults have not yet mastered. Your example extreme due to the intense spotlight this little project ended up being in. However, we do have to help our students deals with rejection and harsh truths no matter how rude they may be.

    The other more important lesson is the lesson of empathy within our culture and especially within our students. The hurtful and often profane comments that were left on the video were horrible examples of empathy. How can we teach our students this valuable lesson? It is not an easy answer…but a question worth asking.

  3. Clearly, shutting our students off from the outside world with internet filtering will not solve these problems either. If you look any sites that allow commenting you see a barrage of insults typically. This certainly is an issue and we need to begin to take down the wall of filtering to address these issues.

  4. Thanks for starting this conversation, Lyn. I definitely think the distance that digital spaces enable between creator and audience makes hatefulness more prevalent.

    Heck, I see it in the kinds of emails that parents are willing to send to teachers nowadays.

    And Stump is right: We need to constantly remind our students that empathy matters in online spaces too — while simultaneously showing our content creators how to moderate and/or turn commenting off on services like YouTube.

    I wonder how we can do a better job modeling digital empathy for our students. Does that mean we should be in the same digital spaces that they are in? And if so, will they really want us there.

    You’ve got me wondering today.

  5. Gerald – agreed, we can’t keep limiting the types of creative opportunities students have. The more creating they do, the more open they will learn to be with feedback.

    Josh – what an excellent point… how many of us love to be criticized? What are our initial reactions when it happens? Not good, I’d guess. But, all of us are subject to that when we put ourselves “out there” and share our ideas. Even those of us that don’t share publicly are certainly open to criticisms in all areas of life. How do we deal? How do we teach kids to cope? Helping children learn empathy… so, so important. That takes an entire community.

    Mike- so true! Sheltering them from these interactions isn’t going to solve anything.

    Bill – Certainly tough lessons here. I’ve received my share of email doozies from parents, too. There are many adults who have never learned how to communicate electronically in an appropriate manner. Yet, we expect our kids to just inherently know this? I bet our kids want us in their digital spaces when it comes to creation, collaboration for learning. Not sure about the social spaces. Would be interesting to talk to your kids and find out their thoughts!

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