How many of you have seen something on the internet today that was negative about something? You know, where someone who didn’t like or didn’t agree with something.
Okay. You can put your hands down now.
Now how many of you have seen something posted on the internet today that was downright mean? I don’t think I need to define that, right?
It could be a book review or a Facebook post or one of those pesky anonymously posted comments on a news story.
How many of you have seen more than one mean post? How about 10? 20?
How many of you have lost count?
It seems so easy to post things out into the great wide interwebs without much concern about who reads it or how it might affect them. Or how it affects how people see the person who posted it – especially if they were brave enough to post it under their real name.
I was thinking about writing models yesterday and how they help us determine the rules and the form and the nuances of writing in various forms that are new and unfamiliar to us.
Today I couldn’t help but think about how whatever we put out into the world via technology is a potential model for someone else. Quite possibly someone we’ll never even know read our post. Probably someone we’ll never ever meet.
With each piece we write and share, we throw something out to a greater body of work available that helps through some magical process to create standards and expectations for good writing. And that idea of “good” covers all aspects of what gets posted – the clarity of ideas, the style, the tone…
The tone. The attitude of the writer or speaker as conveyed through word choice and/or pitch of the voice.
And this is where I come to the subject of my post: The Thumper Rule.
I spend time talking to my students about how they interact – and how they should interact – with others online. I know it’s got to be short and memorable and here’s what it is in a nutshell:
It’s really that easy. It’s another version of the Golden Rule – and quite frankly, we need as many versions of that to teach our kids as we can find. Like this one:
I remember seeing a version of this sign at a diner when I was in college and thought it was a brilliant rule. Simple. Brief. To the point. Leave your bad attitude at the door.
BE NICE OR LEAVE.
But the world doesn’t always operate like this.
And the internet definitely doesn’t.
And some days it feels like my students don’t have a lot of positive role models for their online interactions.
And what happens when the internet meanness and real life collide? Well…that is apparently uncomfortable for people who are old enough that they once didn’t have an online to be mean in. Or so I’ve been told.
I remember someone I was standing with in line for taxis on the last day of BEA telling me about how there were bloggers who were uncomfortable sitting with authors at the BEA Blogger Convention breakfast because they ended up sitting with authors whose works they had panned.
Those uncomfortable bloggers might very well have been the same people who wrinkled their noses and were tweeting furiously when the keynote speaker Jennifer Weiner said, “But there’s something to be said for talking up the things you love instead of talking down the things you hate.”
(No nose-wrinkling from me. There has never been any point in writing a negative review of a book. There’s an audience for every book. Who am I to turn people away from them? Especially when I can promote the books I love (which is so much more inviting to write anyway) – and it gives more than enough information for any reader to determine if he or she would want to read the book. But…I’m getting away from myself…)
What made those bloggers uncomfortable was a realization that their words might have an effect on the person they’re writing about.
So what happens with kids when they encounter the target of their meanness face-to-face in school? Do they feel that same sense of discomfort? Do they have any kind of realization of what those words meant to the other person? Do they feel embarrassed enough to sit quietly and hope that no one realizes who they are and what they have done?
I guess those answers differ with the students in question for a whole host of reasons.
But we probably aren’t going to know what’s getting posted online unless one of the students tells us. We’ll just see what happens in front of us in school. The reality is that we need to prepare them for whatever might come their way – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
So we need to prepare students for what to do when there is conflict. What’s acceptable and what’s not. How to discuss/argue respectfully – without attacking the other person. How to have good manners, exhibit good sportsmanship, and know how to say, “I’m sorry.”
I’ll be honest here: I’m a work in progress and expect I will be all my life. I make missteps and say things without thinking that I wish I hadn’t said. When I do, I make every effort to apologize. But online, I take great pains to reread what I write and think about the Thumper Rule before I hit POST or PUBLISH. Once it’s out there, you can’t take it back.