“What would Gandhi have done if he had a MySpace account?” Stephen Carrick-Davies, CEO of Childnet International, asked social networkers at a talk he gave this past weekend in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. He asked them to use social networking to “channel their creativity, energy, idealism and vision in creating and promoting peace across cultures and borders,” to “be the change you want to see,” as Gandhi put it. “‘Don’t wait for the adults to do it,'” Stephen told youth among a capacity audience at the international conference on technology for peace. “So many [adults] don’t fully understand this new space. Rather, start yourselves with your own network of friends.” Stephen was referring, according to Childnet’s press release, to the opportunity as well as risk that cyberbullying presents all of us (teens, parents, educators, policymakers, etc.). There has never been a more overt, society-wide example of how it’s really only “self-regulation” and individual behavior that can defeat a problem like cyberbullying (recent research at the University of New Hampshire shows that aggressive behavior puts the aggressor at risk). The social Web is highly unruly, in many ways lawless, but it’s not the problem. In his speech, Stephen cited Vint Cerf’s recent comment on BBC Radio about how the social Web is simply a mirror of human society and behavior. “If you don’t like what you see in the mirror you don’t simply blame the mirror,” Stephen said (I wish some American policymakers could’ve been in Sharm El Sheikh).
Schools can help, Stephen suggested, as can parents. “Educating children about how to behave online and understand the very real safety issues is supremely relevant to the teaching of citizenship and personal safety in schools. If the role of schools is to prepare children for life outside of the school gate and help children think for themselves, then it needs to be relevant to the world children are inhabiting. ICT is crucial for the knowledge economy and is now such an important life skill, it’s time schools taught children how to live life to the full online, and that includes safety and moral responsibilities in environments that aren’t used in the classroom, such as instant messaging, chat and social-networking sites.” In any case, if social networking forces us to focus more on social ethics and citizenship in homes and schools, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it’s a gift to humanity.
About the conference: The first of its kind, the conference was organized by The Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement and gathered 600+ teens from 100 countries “to review how ICT could be better used in promoting and sustaining a culture of peace among young people.” Besides Egypt First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, it was attended by senior IT industry and NGO executives, government officials, and representatives from the UN, the ITU, and the Global Alliance for ICT and Development.