Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

Media Literacy and Online Bullying: Online gossip needs to be examined

Taylor Swift - Mean

Taylor Swift – Mean (Photo credit: [ captivated ])

A Twitter feed has sprung up around our campus. It is full of direct verbal attacks on groups and individuals and slut shaming of young women for their sexual behaviors or appearance. This is clearly an example of a young adult copying a media representation of social aggression. And we think kids are watching things like Monster High that are full of social aggression and not copying it? Get outta here!

One of the key components of a media literacy curriculum is learning to use social media responsibly. In Renee Hobbs’ excellent book Digital and Media Literacy, she talks about the importance of learning that all communication involves ethical and social values. With every social interaction, including those online, Hobbs says, “we are choosing whether or not to apply social responsibility and ethical principles to our own identity, our communication behavior, and our conduct.”

What we do online matters. It is a reflection of our identity, our self-esteem, and it impacts the feelings and thoughts of those with whom we interact.

People can argue all they want that it’s funny to be mean and snarky to other people online. But what you put into this world is what you get back. Spew hate and cruelty or share love and kindness, what you give will flow back to you. We can make this world a better place, and bullying is not how we do that. Call me Pollyanna, but then you have to call Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi the same, because every one of them believed in the power of love.

Media representations have told us it’s funny to hurt others, it gives you social power. It’s time to rethink that idea. Here are some things we need to consider when in engaging with Gossip accounts, blogs, etc:

  • Imagine the thoughts and feelings of the people who are engaging with this site. What must those who are targeted be feeling? What if you or someone you care about were put in the same situation? Stand in their shoes for a minute, let yourself see things from their perspective.
  • Think about the possible consequences for this behavior. It’s clear that the targets of cyber bullying will “feel bad.” What does that mean, exactly? Could this lead to extreme consequences for them, such as dropping out of school or self-destructive behavior? Online behavior has real life consequences, and to act as if it doesn’t is not socially responsible.
  • Think about power and responsibility. People who start gossip sites or accounts do so to gain social power. But that type of social power is built completely on the weakness of others. This is an ugly and desperate kind of power, and it’s inevitably unsustainable.

It saddens me to see young adults using what they’ve seen in the media about social aggression in real life to hurt and attack real people. We are better than this, my friends. We can make this world a better place, but to do that we have to be willing to recognize and confront destructive behavior when we see it. Laughing along with someone who’s abusing and shaming people publicly or ignoring this bullying behavior does no good. As Edward Burke says, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (and women) do nothing.” It’s time to stop doing nothing. Bullying is wrong and it should not stand without challenge. All of these gossip sites need to be challenged by educated people. The owners of the sites generally remain anonymous, so they are flinging arrows at others while avoiding any themselves. We won’t change all of their minds, but if we get even one person who was participating in online bullying to stop and think, then we’ve made a difference in somebody’s world. Bullying is never okay, and it’s time for all of us to get comfortable with standing up to it.

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2 comments on “Media Literacy and Online Bullying: Online gossip needs to be examined

  1. naomi@thekidscoach.org.uk
    October 5, 2012

    I have started workshops for this very reason. I inform children about how they can use social media without hurting other people including their friends.

  2. Pingback: Media Literacy 101 « Beirut Lounge

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This entry was posted on September 28, 2012 by in Acting, For Teens and Tweens.

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