Eight Questions to Ask When Media is Manipulated

Digital media manipulators use and modify information in any way necessary to support their views. The truth, context, intention, and even a person’s reputation are irrelevant, as Mrs. Shirley Sherrod discovered this week. What do children learn during these media spectacles?

While it’s tempting to focus on the unprincipled young-adult blogger who posted the edited, out-of-context video, the more compelling issue is how it’s increasingly acceptable to use digital media to embarrass and publicly humiliate others. Although the victim can be in the national news, more often it’s a child on the other side of a classroom. Thus the task of initiating conversations to help children understand ethical digital behavior takes on greater urgency.

These questions aim to help a parent get started.

  1. How is the privacy and reputation of the victim violated?
  2. When did the events unfold and in what order?
  3. Why do incidents become so public so fast?
  4. How are digital tools misused or manipulated?
  5. Why did this incident take place?
  6. Did the manipulator intend to humiliate?
  7. Can you imagine a situation in which it okay to manipulate media in this way?
  8. Can disagreements be solved using digital materials?

Increasingly any of our words, videos, or digital photos — whether they are errors in judgement or daily run-of-the-mill communication — can be misused by someone else. As Professor Jeffrey Rosen points out in his July 19, 2010, New York Times Magazine article, The Web Means the End of Forgetting, nothing is hidden anymore. It is a long article, but worth reading.

Digitally native children learn to send, receive, forward, cut, paste and also to edit and revise words, audio files, and pictures. Very early on, children have learned how to change and manipulate digital media. The challenge is to ensure that, as children master these and more powerful technology skills, they also understand and master the ethics of using digital resources. Adults who live and work with children can facilitate the conversations, and no one needs to be a power computer user to get started.

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