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Transformational – not just transactional – Net safety & citizenship needed

Little football player (via CC Search)

Little football player (via CC Search)

A couple of years ago I listened to a heart-rending interview on NPR with Joe Ehrmann, former NFL football player and founder of Coach for America. I’d been the mother of a hockey player for more than a decade and was moved by Ehrmann’s call for transformational rather than transactional coaching. Like many parents, I found myself wishing there’d been more of that in our family’s experience. But my interest was more than personal. I’d been following developments in Internet safety even longer than I’d been a hockey parent, and the coach’s message showed me what had been missing in online safety education too.

Since the beginning of the field, about two decades ago in the U.S., the messages have been transactional: Do this (think, post, pause, block, monitor, etc.) and you or your kid will be able to stay safe, avoid danger, know what’s being posted, protect a reputation, get into college, keep your job, etc., etc.), right?

Transformational goes better with social Read more

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Handling toxicity: Insights for parents & teachers from Riot Games

There’s real wisdom for parents, coaches and educators – not to mention gamers, athletes and social media users – in this business story about what toxic behavior does to a team. The game in question? League of Legends, a 30 million-player “team-based game” along the lines of Capture the Flag “or, more aptly, ‘destroy the enemy base’,” according to Google’s re:Work’s description. The game company itself, Riot Games, ranks high on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work For list, re:Work says.

riotgamesWhen you read this, think game play if you’re a gamer (or coach) or school climate if you’re an educator: Riot figured out that, “if a new player encounters toxic behavior in their very first game, they are 320% less likely to come back again.” That’s not a typo, but even if it were 32%, that’s a lot of people who don’t want to go back to the game, as it would be of students not wanting to go back to school. [Important: This is toxic behavior as defined by the community, not its creators or managers.] “Research has shown that having a toxic teammate in the workplace can bring down the performance and morale of an entire team,” re:Work cited Harvard Business School research as finding. All of Riot’s employees play League of Legends and have an in-game profile, which is a little Big Brother-ish sounding, right? But keep reading.

Here’s the part that I think parents and educators will find useful: what the company found out about the toxic in-game behavior and how it handled the people who engaged in it. Four things: Read more

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Major update on bullying, cyberbullying in the U.S.: Study

Depending on the survey, bullying's decreasing or flattening out. Orange: School Crime Supplement of Nat'l Crime Victimization Survey; Blue: School-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey; Red: The Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Survey; Green: Nat'l Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence [Source: Nat'l Academies]

Depending on the survey, bullying’s decreasing or flattening out. Orange: School Crime Supplement of Nat’l Crime Victimization Survey; Blue: School-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey; Red: The Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Survey; Green: Nat’l Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence [Source: Nat’l Academies]

Bullying. Why haven’t we solved this social problem yet? Because, according to an important update from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine, bullying is one very complex problem.

“Composition of peer groups, shifting demographics, changing societal norms, and modern technology are factors that must be considered to understand and effectively react to bullying in the US,” wrote the authors of “Preventing Bullying through Science, Policy & Practice” released this month. Not much is left out of that equation, and possibly the most complex part is that it’s a “group phenomenon, with multiple peers taking on roles other than perpetrator and target. Peers are a critical factor because they influence group norms, attitudes, and behavior,” according to the report. Each of those peers has his or her own personality, gender identity, psychosocial makeup, abilities and/or disabilities, family environment and other factors, right?

Cyberbullying seems to have peaked in 2011: Gold: School Crime Supplement of Nat'l Crime Victimization Survey; Blue: School-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey; Red: The Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Survey; Green: Nat'l Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence [Source: Nat'l Academies]

Cyberbullying seems to have peaked in 2011: Gold: School Crime Supplement of Nat’l Crime Victimization Survey; Blue: School-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey; Red: The Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Survey; Green: Nat’l Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence [Source: Nat’l Academies]

But we’re learning a lot – and, since the arrival of cyberbullying, likely faster than ever before in the history of social aggression. We have better definitions, a better handle on the scope of the problem and better knowledge of what we still don’t know and need to study.

So new clarity comes with this report. It also reflects greater than ever consensus across many fields working with youth – education, law and policy, pediatrics, neurobiological development, criminology, technology and clinical and developmental psychology.

Here’s just a sampler, just a dozen insights from this major update on bullying and cyberbullying: Read more

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Everyday superheroes: Parents & caregivers

It probably wouldn’t occur to most moms, dads, foster parents, aunts, uncles and other caregivers that #WhatMakesASuperhero is just the right hashtag to mark Mother’s Day (and next month, Father’s Day). But a beautiful little video about five-year-old Cammie and her aunt-turned-foster mother Camellia shows how small things are superpowers to a little child.

From Vroom's vid about Cammie & her mom

From Vroom’s vid about Cammie & her mom

The video is part of the Vroom project and app for early child development. The app, developed “on the premise that every child is born with enormous potential, and every parent can help them realize that potential,” gives parents and caregivers little activities that “turn everyday moments into brain building moments.” For example, when you’re out running errands with your child, have him or her be the keeper of the list and check off errands as they’re accomplished; or when you leave the house or apartment, put your child in charge of turning off all the lights; or when waiting for a bus or a light to turn green, make up a story together about someone you see nearby.

So if you have a little child at your house, know that simple, conscious connecting is powerful: eye contact and curious, open-hearted questions about what a child’s seeing and doing during play in digital and physical spaces (see this page for more “Brain Building Basics”). An example I love came from media professor and grandfather Stephen Heppell in the UK (I wrote about that here). Listening to him taught me how to turn videogame play into experiential learning for both parent and child.

So happy Mother’s Day to all parents and caregivers, all superheroes to the world’s children! My hat’s off to you.

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Behind the scenes of safety & free speech in social media

For a must-read article for anyone interested in safety and free speech online, some of the social media industry’s most seasoned content moderators – the apps’ and sites’ safety managers and free speech decisionmakers – went public for the first time.

“Their stories reveal how the boundaries of free speech were drawn during a period of explosive growth for a high-stakes public domain, one that did not exist for most of human history,” write Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly, the authors of the piece in

Content moderators’ stories – and this article – reveal a lot more, including how hard it is for human beings, much less the software that supports their work, to decide for users representing all ages, languages, cultures and countries…

  • What “safe” means for a community that includes children and many other protected classes
  • What “free speech” means online and whether it’s different there
  • What’s “newsworthy” – what violent or graphic content should be allowed to stay visible because its viewing could change the course of history
  • When content has crossed the line from artistic to harmful.

You’ll see how all this works behind the apps and services billions of us use – the sheer scale of the work and the toll it can take on the mental health of the people doing it. And that last point is so important.
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Not defaulting to default thinking about social media

Ok, full disclosure: I know my antennae are up when I read the news. I’ve been questioning reflexively negative pronouncements about social media for years. But the reason is all the fear about the impact of social media on our children, not to mention the human race, that has been swirling in the air for a decade now. Negativity has become our default, and I don’t think that’s good for us, our parenting or our children.

twitterlogoTake for example two articles I happened to pick up and read one after the other in yesterday’s New York Times. In the first article, Bob Mould, a guy whose whole career is about being creative, in one breath says the Internet has “given everybody a way to express themselves,” then defaults to: “But sometimes I fear that people don’t actually get together physically.” That’s a default thought from the 1990s, when “everybody” was “surfing the Web” anonymously and isolating themselves in dark rooms lit by a single screen.

tinderThe next article was actually about social media, specifically Tinder, the dating app. It was refreshingly neutral overall, pointing out the non-default observation that, “while some use [it] to find one-night stands, others have found spouses.” Yay! We find a journalist reporting that social media use is actually very individual – a reflection of the user and his/her life right then. Reporter Brooke Lea Foster led with a married couple who met on Tinder: Read more

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Messaging apps rule: What’s interesting about that for parents

This statement stopped me in my tracks when I was reading about how messaging apps now reign supreme in social media: “‘Ask and you shall receive’ has become the new customer experience.” I’ll tell you why that gave me pause in a moment. First a look at what’s being reported about mobile messaging.

whatsapp“The top four messaging apps—WhatsApp and Messenger (both owned by Facebook), WeChat and Viber—have nearly 3 billion users alone,” reports Ad Week, with Facebook’s two representing more than half of that. So, at 3 billion users worldwide, just the top 4 mobile messaging apps have surpassed all “social networking apps” by half a billion users.

The one-stop-shopping trend

messengerParents already may have noticed how much they’re in use! Kik and Snapchat may not be in the Top 4, but certainly in teens’ Top 10, along with FB Messenger or Whatsapp (people, much less younger ones, hardly limit themselves to just one!). And where all this is going is not only texting and not even only audio and video chat as well. All this is going to one-stop shopping, figuratively and literally – from one place for all kinds of communication to one place for a whole lot of other stuff, of course including shopping (it already is in Asia – see this).

viberSo back to that statement, “‘Ask and you shall receive’ has become the new customer experience.” As an interest group in many countries and with the help of researchers, parents are just beginning to get past reflexive fear of social media to more nuanced, less lizard-brain/fight-or-flight thinking about this global new-media environment in which our children are growing up. Read more

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Our humanity, not our tech, is the key to fixing online hate

To mark Safer Internet Day 2016, let’s take stock of what we’ve learned so far and what we can do with the knowledge we’ve gained so far about online hate….

SID2016It has taken a couple of decades but, collectively, we’re definitely getting smarter about online risk and how to avoid and address it. We’re also getting smarter about how people of various ages, cultures and interests experience and create digital spaces, and four important realizations spreading across the world are that…

  • The online risk that affects the most people, regardless of age, is usually boiled down into two words, “online hate” (a just-released survey by the UK’s Safer Internet Centre found that 82% of British 13-to-18-year-olds say they’ve witnessed online hate of some kind and 24% have themselves been targeted, pspychologist and international youth online risk researcher Sonia Livingstone reported in her blog post for Safer Internet Day today).
  • It’s a spectrum of hateful online behavior, or “hate speech,” from what parenting educator Annie Fox calls “social garbage” to online character assassination to relentless, targeted multi-pronged attacks that include doxxing (making private information public) and other speech that threatens physical harm.
  • This hate speech does not only affect youth. It affects all of us – people of all ages – including its witnesses, sometimes called bystanders (“Bystanders are significantly affected by the bullying they witness or hear about, so much so that they may be at an increased risk of self-harming behavior,” wrote Prof. Ian Rivers at Brunel University.
  • Broader wisdom: There is much that all of us, including parents, can learn from what targets of online hate have learned, regardless of their age, and two standout lessons are one gleaned from research in many countries – the vital importance of resilience to everybody’s well-being in this increasingly transparent networked world – and the fact that what we’re learning about online hate is teaching us things about the offline version.

Read more

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Europe’s big step backward for youth rights online, offline

Young people and parents everywhere should know that, where youth rights are concerned, Europe just took a big step backward. Even though every single one of the European Union’s 28 countries has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, whose Article 12 states that “children” (people under 18) have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them, a European agreement that greatly affects teens has been made entirely without their views or participation. It was reached even without the views of adult experts on child online rights or protection. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is expected to be ratified this month and become law in 2018, was unexpectedly, inexplicably modified in a closed-door meeting called a Trialogue to require anyone under 16 to get parental consent to use online services, SC Magazine reported, in effect moving the so-called social media minimum age up from 13 to 16 for European youth. [Sometimes referred to as “secret EU lawmaking,” Trialogues are private meetings of representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council.]

What a trialogue looks like: Economic Governance trialogue meeting at the Eureopean Parliament, Sept. 2011 (photo by Pietro Naj-Oleari; CC licensed)

What a trialogue looks like: Economic Governance trialogue meeting at the Eureopean Parliament, Sept. 2011 (photo by Pietro Naj-Oleari; CC licensed)

Demeaning treatment

“Children are consistently overlooked by internet governance decisions,” wrote EU Kids Online’s founding researcher and psychology professor Sonia Livingstone. Their intelligence, agency and capacity for leadership online as well as offline are too consistently overlooked too. “At best, they are treated as vulnerable individuals – not the independent rights-bearers of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [UNCRC].” She cited the international Internet governance body Netmundial as stating that the “rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”

Right before the Trialogue’s decision, Dr. Livingstone had co-authored a paper on the subject. Its title, “One in Three: Internet Governance and Children’s Rights,” had spotlighted the fact that a third of the planet’s Internet users are under 18. The European Union has failed to seek the input of a significant portion of Internet users on one of Europe’s most important Net-related regulatory directives in decades.

Zero transparency

“Children and young people have been ill-served … and I am afraid the [European] Commission must shoulder most of the blame,” wrote another of the paper’s co-authors, UK online child protection expert John Carr in a blog post about his investigation into how the GDPR’s surprise modification about teens came about. “More than anything, [Trialogues in general and the GDPR one last month in particular] show the world that children’s rights as internet users are not being treated with the respect or seriousness they deserve within or by the Commission as well as other key EU institutions.”

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Millennials’ top 10 apps at the turn of the year

Youth digital research firm YPULSE’s “most clicked article of 2015” didn’t hold a lot of surprises, but it might be useful to note teens’ and millennials’ top picks here at the turn of the year. Facebook owns three of the Top 10 apps: Instagram (No. 1), the Facebook app (2nd) and Whatsapp, which appears to tie with YouTube and the Weather app for 7th place, and Google two of them (its search app and YouTube). I say “appears” because I’m basing this on the graphical word cloud in the Ypulse’s article for the public (like most market research firms, it charges fees for its reports, blogging only the highlights). Snapchat and the Google app were tied for 3rd. Twitter‘s No. 4, with Yahoo’s Tumblr next and Spotify the music app apparently close behind it.

Listen to a lively audio snippet (embedded in this New York Times piece of a focus group with 8th graders showing how they make social media services their own (e.g., how these teens make Instagram more like Snapchat by making their own IG photos disappear!). Read more

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A prosecutor’s good decision in teen sexting case

This is a catch-up blog post bookmarking real progress in the handling of teen sexting in the United States – and unusually good reporting on it from CNN. Thankfully, none of the reported hundreds of middle school and high school students in Cañon City, Col., who were accused of sexting will face criminal charges. That’s important because Colorado is one of 30 states whose prosecutors have to rely on child pornography laws in sexting cases because they still don’t have laws that address sexting, and child pornography laws can criminalize the very people they were designed to protect: minors. The district attorney who investigated the Cañon City case, Thom LeDoux, underscored how harsh these laws can be for adolescents when he told reporters that it didn’t even matter if any of the students’ image-sharing was consensual. “There is no distinction [between consensual and nonconsensual] according to Colorado state statutes,” he said.  Read more

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A gazillion ways to communicate, socialize, etc.: Fun!

Apologies to email subscribers, who already received this. It got lost in the transition from one Web hosting service to another. I hope to have all these bugs screened out in the first couple of weeks of 2016! [Happy New Year, BTW!] Here’s what I first posted a couple of weeks ago….

As I read through the first 12 or so paragraphs of Sam Slaughter’s article in the New York Times Style section, I thought, oh brother, yet another clever article that’s #fashionably_grumpy_about_social_media. Especially when I got to, “It’s enough to make you pine for the good old days of typewriters and calligraphy.” Great. More hand-wringing (and the hand-wringing is only growing, which makes me wonder why we don’t stop wringing and start being the change IN our digital spaces, e.g., with counterspeech)….

Then I was pleasantly surprised to see Slaughter quoting a New York University media professor making the point that even letter writing was individual and contextual, letters getting finely customized with “applications” like perfume, fingerprints, pressed flowers, and – I would add – people’s personal seals, inks, papers, penmanship, doodles, etc. So now we have digital nuance, context, creativity, right?

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Counterspeech: New online safety tool with huge potential

It's a tool for users, upstanders and activists of all ages successfully in several countries at least.

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Finally defining digital citizenship: Help from top researchers

Much-needed clarity and simplification from U.S. experts in youth online risk and safety

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Real help for kids dealing with cyberbullying

IBPAIt was an epiphany that turned into a theme for me at the annual conference of the International Bullying Prevention Association this week. It was a theme by the third day, when I heard keynote speaker Carlotta Walls-Laprier say, “I knew who I was.” She, one of the Little Rock Nine (the African American students who made history in 1957 as the first to attend then-all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.), was responding to an audience member who asked how she dealt with the racism and kept from “hating the haters.” She gave credit to her parents for raising her to know that “I couldn’t hate another person.”

WallsLaNier“I knew who I was.” That powerful statement was very similar to the insight – more like floodlight – that came from hearing Emily Lindin, director of the new documentary Unslut, respond to almost the same question from the audience at the film’s screening on the first night of IBPA. Lindin, a survivor of sexual bullying in high school, started The Unslut Project to create a support community for targets of sexual shaming and raise awareness of its impacts.

Now in the final stages of a PhD program and speaking at school screenings around the country, having been featured on ABC with Katie Couric, CNN with Brooke Baldwin, NPR, Al Jazeera America, and many other news outlets, Lindin told the audience member that what got her through that time was learning how to define herself rather than let other people’s opinions define her. She elaborated on this in an email to me:

Healing from ‘slut’ shaming

emilyAt the time, I didn’t know how to think about the steps I was taking to overcome sexual bullying. I’m not even sure I understood that was what I was doing – I was just trying to cope however I could. But what worked for me was identifying what I liked to do, what I was already somewhat good at doing, and throwing my energy into getting better at it. For me, it was singing. In that way, I was able to redefine myself rather than letting my peers define me, as I had been doing throughout middle school. Instead of ‘the school slut,’ I became a singer, someone who was pretty good at musical theater, an academic, and – most importantly – a KIND person. I practiced kindness. Over the course of about a year, I redefined myself according to what I wanted to be. And eventually, other people caught on and stopped defining me as a ‘slut,’ as well.

And this is crucial: She continued, “But even if they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered that much, because I had redefined myself in my own mind. I had stopped internalizing and depending upon their opinion of me.”

How we can help

That, parents and educators, is true safety and well-being in all contexts, digital and physical, right? We can help our children grow resilience and emotional health by helping them… Read more

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10 tips for digital citizens’ parents

Actually, parents are digital citizens too. If they spend any time in digital spaces. At least for as long as we residents of this networked world are still putting “digital” in front of “citizenship.” I suspect that won’t be for very long, but we’re here, now, in an interesting, global discourse about what citizenship means now in an increasingly networked world – especially for youth, the people who will be running it – so let’s run with it.

REDNATICOne corner of that discussion is here in Buenos Aires this week. I’m speaking at the First Regional Conference on Digital Literacy & Citizenship of REDNATIC, a growing network of online-youth-serving nonprofit organizations from all over Latin America and a great model for other regions of the planet. The conference is being hosted by, Argentina’s leading nonprofit organization in youth digital literacy.

In an email interview, Buenos Aires’s big daily newspaper Clarin asked me for 10 tips for parents of digital citizens. So, since they’re in Spanish there, I thought I’d share the English-language original with you here:

  • Remember that digital citizenship can’t just be digital. Our digital social experiences and activities are embedded in and reflect our offline social lives. So be clear that what you’ve always taught your children about being a good human being applies to the digital part of their lives too.
  • Know that digital citizenship isn’t just a kid thing. We can’t expect our kids to be good digital citizens if we aren’t modeling good citizenship ourselves (its elements include civility, social literacy, community engagement, accountability, respecting others’ rights and perspectives). “Do what I do” is so much more powerful than “do what I say” in any aspect of parenting.

Read more

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About CNN’s ‘Being 13’: Let’s be fair

I know this isn’t parents’ or educators’ default thinking or we wouldn’t be seeing excellent advice like this, but our children are very smart where social media’s concerned. CNN made a big thing in the promotion around its documentary and study “Being 13” about a girl saying about her selfies, “don’t judge [but], maybe 200 sometimes if I really can’t get a right one.” What professional photographer wouldn’t take a gazillion photos in a photo shoot? And why wouldn’t a person of any age want to put his or her best foot forward, photographically speaking?

being13Of course they’re curating

And why did the teenager in question say right up front “don’t judge”? Could it be because we grownups so often do default to thoughts like, “that child shouldn’t be posting photos of herself”? Which would be like our mothers or grandmothers saying, “why do you look in the mirror so much?” It’s also a little like making a blanket decision about a child’s behavior without knowing anything about the child. Posting selfies, like just about everything in social media, is:

  • Individual – in terms of all aspects of who you are, including where you are in your life
  • Situational – where you are at a particular point in time, emotionally and environmentally
  • Contextual – where you are physically and culturally – at school, work, a party, a country, a digital environment, etc.

Based on those factors and what app you’re using, sometimes posting selfies is totally spontaneous (as it often is in Snapchat); sometimes it’s highly curated (as it often is in Instagram). Read more

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Online harassment, bullying: Wisdom from someone who’s been there

To mark National Bullying Prevention Month, here – in addition to some fresh research on bystanders further down – are some simple but powerful insights from someone who has been and continues to be subjected to severe online harassment and is now helping other victims recover from it….

CC licensed

CC licensed

“I’m a game developer, I’m a systems thinker so I can see patterns in behavior,” said Zoe Quinn, who, at the XOXOfest 2015 conference, shared some behavior patterns she’s picked up on as a target of sustained online abuse associated with last year’s hashtag storm called #gamergate (as The New Yorker described it, her main “crime” and a big reason for all the harassment was Depression Quest, a free game she created to help people deal with depression). Quinn is also leveraging all she’s learned to help run Crash Override Network, which she co-founded to support victims of large-scale online abuse. With thanks to Kevin Marks for his notes from her talk, here are some observations from Quinn that anyone interested in bullying prevention might find helpful or confirming:

  • Upstanding is influential. “I talked to 300 former trolls and asked why they stopped. They said someone they looked up to said it wasn’t cool.”
  • Dehumanization’s the problem. “Another thing that got the trolls backing off,” she said, “is humanizing the target, not making [the target] a caricature.” This reminds me of deeper psychological insight from MIT Prof. Sherry Turkle in the New York Times last week: that when there’s a disconnect with ourselves, we can disconnect with and marginalize others.
  • Filling a void. Wise adults have been saying this to young bullying victims for years, but Quinn adds a fresh insight about the online kind: The cruel behavior is “not really about the target, it’s about belonging to the group that is attacking.”

Read more

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A prime minister & a professor: True connecting in a digital age

Two messages in two media – video and text – by a prime minister and a professor got me, and I’m sure many others, thinking about the good, not-so-good and necessary connecting we human beings are doing on digital devices now, at both international and personal levels.

ModiZuckI haven’t heard a politician from any country speak of using social media the way India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi did at Facebook headquarters today. Back in 2010, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did speak of using the Internet “to create norms of behavior among states [countries],” but Prime Minister Modi seems to be doing just that and then some, sending birthday wishes to fellow prime ministers in their own languages (Chinese and Hebrew) and hearing back from them in his own, Hindi, he told his audience at Facebook and – through livestreaming – in India and a lot of other countries.

Geopolitical but personal

This is a very humanizing kind of diplomacy – a kind so needed in our world now. Modi spoke of the world as a family and social media as a catalyst for keeping the family in touch with one another. It gives new meaning to the term “digital citizenship,” a meaning that might be meaningful for US parents and educators to bring into discussions at home and school. Though not without sectarian controversy (that followed him right to the Facebook campus), this is a politician with an approval rating possibly never reached by an American one: 87% by the end of his first year in office (see Wikipedia).

He was a “chaiwallah” as a little boy, a train station tea seller from a very poor, uneducated family, according to Foreign Policy, and he said at Facebook that social media helped him educate himself in a way that humans could never before learn about the wider world. He added that he first went on Facebook not to campaign but to find out what this social media thing was all about and now he sees it as a tool for “the government and the people to have daily bonding.” He said he urges government leaders around the world to try to get on social media because “it would benefit them greatly…. You’ll be able to have a good government if you have many channels of real-time information” from the people. So this politician sees social media as a tool for self-actualization, governance and diplomacy as well as politicking. [He also visited Apple, Google and Tesla Motors on his visit here to northern California, CNN reported.]

Global to micro-personal

Before that innovative geopolitical view of social media was shared across the world this morning, I read a thought-provoking commentary by MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle about social media at the most personal (and probably the most challenging) level. Read more

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