Last week the New York Times published the article, On Instagram, 11,696 Examples of How Hate Thrives on Social Media (NYT 10.29.18) three days after the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. This article highlights social media companies attention to or lack there of “treatment of toxic language and hate speech” on their platforms. Interestingly, “Social media companies have said that identifying and removing hate speech and disinformation — or even defining what constitutes such content — is difficult.”
The past three weeks I have been dealing with my own ordeal of hate speech and false representation on Twitter. After five years and 40 twitter book chats with my students, three weeks ago I moderated a Twitter book chat and an ambiguous avatar joined the chat sending funny pictures and memes. When they did not identify themselves I blocked the account. That did not stop my students participating in the chat from seeing the stream of continuous tweets from this person. If fact, the images and tweets escalated to spread hate speech, anti Semitic photographs and sexist and anti gay memes. The person’s tweets were directed at myself and a student of mine. I reported the tweets to Twitter and within a day the racist, antisemitic, homophobic, and sexist tweets were removed and the account was suspended. But that did not stop this person.
The next day a new account was created by this same person and they used my image as their Avatar. The name of the Twitter handle referenced a Nazi program, Nacht und Nebel (German for “Night and Fog”). This directive issued by Hitler targeted political activists and resistance “helpers” in World War II to be imprisoned or killed. The person sent tweets to me telling me to die and making derogatory statements. When I reported the tweets to Twitter my reports were denied telling me that this was not a threat. The tweets escalated over ten days and the person tweeted in binary code, hex64, and other code threats to me and students of mine. All the tweets were reported to Twitter but Twitter did not consider it a threat or hate speech written in code!
I contacted the FBI, I filed police reports, the DA was involved.
It took legal action to get the IP address which was connected to a residence in the town where I teach. This residence has a young person who is a student in my school, he is not a student in my class. The family is cooperating with the police and the school; additionally, the family has agreed to get counseling for their son. Since the police approached the family my image has been removed and all the tweets have been taken down.
My principal sent the following message out to our community:
We at XXXXX Middle School pride ourselves as educators who not only attend to the academic needs of our students but who also focus on their social and emotional needs. We share your challenge in teaching these young adolescents how to judiciously and ethically use contemporary technology as moral citizens of the school community and ultimately the world.
Dr. Haiken, Team 8R ELA teacher, has been using Twitter for the past six years. With the consent of parents, she and her students tweet about the books they read, creating a sort of twenty-first century book club. Unfortunately, someone has used this account to insert horrible, racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks, some directed at one of our students. We are investigating this and are making every possible effort to discover who the troll is. The police and Twitter administrators have been notified. A full investigation is being conducted and appropriate consequences will be implemented.
We are having discussions with our students about the deeper issues involved, and we need your help. As we partner to help our young people grow into empathetic, responsible adults, we need you to have follow-up conversations at home not only about social media but also about how we treat those who might be a little different from the mainstream.
Bullies hide behind the anonymity of social media. All children regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or beliefs deserve a safe and healthy environment in which to thrive and learn. Please help us deliver this message at home.
These events impacted by teaching and the educational environment. It saddens me that this person who has digital smarts chose to use them for evil and spread hate. In the meanwhile, I think about what are the best ways to promote positive digital citizenship and responsibility so that my students make smart choices online and not become a victim or perpetrator of hate online.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal published a video:
Two educators talk about teaching students to think critically and keeping personal politics out of the classroom.
I concur with the two teachers in the video when they talk about teaching empathy and modeling positive (digital) behavior.
Digital Citizenship is an ongoing lesson that needs to be addressed every year with every student. Social media is not going away, and blocking websites in schools or telling students they cannot use phones is not a realistic solution. These events have helped me to look more closely at the role that social media plays in our lives and how I can promote positive digital behavior in my classroom so all of my students use their digital powers for good.
Below are five resources to teach digital responsibility and citizenship:
Wicked EdTech – Here you can find a video playlist on Digital Literacy
Google Applied Digital Skills – Ready-to-use video lessons teach digital
skills that have immediate, real-life application.
Be Internet Awesome – Google’s Digital Safety Resources for the
classroom and home.
Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship – Empower your students to
make safe, smart, and ethical decisions online.
ISTE Digital Citizenship – Here you can find articles and resources connected to digital
citizenship in schools.