After spending years teaching digital citizenship and civility in the K-12 world, I’ve now come to the conclusion that we parents and teachers should, in the midst of teaching children, stress that there is never privacy online. Yes, I know that we already teach this — or try to — in most schools and homes, but election 2016, accompanied by the theft and sharing of emails and other connected world materials, is scary. It has proven that everyone can be hurt by what they say online — even when what is said is not intended to generate hurtfulness.
To learn much more about the lack of privacy in private communication read Deborah Tannen’s October 28, 2016 Washington Post column, Why What You Say In Private Looks Bad in Public, Even if It Isn’t. Tannen is a professor at Georgetown University and the author of the bestseller, You Just Don’t Understand.
Our confidential comments may differ from what we say in public. When our candid thoughts become widely available — yes, through hacking, but with kids, it’s through intentional sharing, gossip, or the unintentional mistakes that kids make — words can often be interpreted negatively. Moreover, at least for the time being, we live in a world where stealing a public figure’s private communications and making them public appears to be OK.
Good Quotes from Deborah Tannen’s Article (Read the entire article for much more)
- Imagine a world where you can’t feel safe speaking to those you’re closest to because an invisible eavesdropper is always lurking, ready to expose your private words to public scrutiny. Actually, we already live in that world, especially if you’re a public figure or talking to one…
- It’s a fundamental of human communication that we speak differently to different people.
- … things said in private are presumed to reflect the speaker’s true self.
Digital communication has disrupted the rules of civility, privacy, and integrity, perhaps the biggest disruption since Gutenberg mechanized the printing press. So while our world may eventually evolve and someday adopt stronger and more respectful digital rules-of-the-road, right now we should assume that no one has any privacy online. With pre-adolescents and teens, we cannot emphasize the ideas too much.
If election 2016 has done little else, it has offered us a teaching tool to help 21st Century young people learn more about the challenges of citizenship, integrity, individual dignity in a connected world.