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Lessons from a School Bus

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Date posted: June 21, 2012

A recent story from a school bus illustrates the ability of people to use digital communications as a force for incredible good or for evil.

A student used his cell phone to record a video of other students on his bus cruelly taunting and insulting the bus monitor. The video was posted to You Tube and went viral. So far a story of people using technology for bad things.

But the reaction of online communities showed some of the wonderful promise of the digital age. There was an outpouring of support for the bus monitor. Thousands of messages of support and encouragement were posted. Petitions were started. Her story was picked up by mainstream media and she appeared on network morning news shows and on cable news programs.

Then there was a backlash against the kids, including calling them names and even threatening them. It got serious enough that local police were considering stationing officers outside the homes of the kids who had been identified on the video.

Most interesting and heartwarming is the way one individual started a collection to raise money for the bus monitor to take a vacation. At the time this is being written, more than $350,000 has been raised.

Digital technologies give people incredible potential to do good, if you can harness and direct its power in positive ways. And a person can cause incredible harm when that power is abused. It’s people, not the technology that is causing the good or bad. As Brad Hirschfield blogged on washingtonpost.com, “’virality’ is neither good nor bad, it just is. While there is obviously no moral equivalence between the bullies and the donors to the fund established on Klein’s behalf, both reflect the fact that people like to join with others, and things which they might not otherwise do alone, for good or for bad, suddenly make great sense when done in community.”

The problem with too many of the programs teaching internet safety is that they only teach about the bad (the “don’t dos”) and not about the good (the “how tos”). The attraction of digital citizenship is its holistic and positive approach of working with kids to encourage positive, ethical, effective, and safe use of digital media and technology. That’s one of the many lessons in this story.

You can learn more about digital citizenship here.