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Media literacy lessons from comedian ChescaLeigh

Franchesca Ramsey, or @chescaleigh – the comedy writer, YouTube star with 247,000+ subscribers, host of MTV Decoded, and author of the just-released Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist – could also easily be considered a media literacy educator now. For one thing, she has a lot of credibility with fellow avid users and creators of social media. For another, she has experienced the worst of it and – through her book and interviews about it (like this one with Marie Forleo) – is sharing what she learned in a funny, accessible way. And of course “social” is so part of media literacy now, right? I even checked with my friends at NAMLE and the Center for Media Literacy, and they agree.

Cover of Ramsey bookRamsey is the first to say she has made plenty of mistakes in media, including calling out racism online and having that go viral and blow up in her face (“I was being ripped to shreds because I didn’t know how to respond to being ripped to shreds,” she told Forleo). So where does media literacy stop and social literacy (that safeguard against trolling, harassment and cyberbullying) start? How can we separate these two power tools for life and media navigation, or for that matter the third one: digital literacy? And how better to teach our children how to use those safety and social-good power tools (besides active listening and modeling respectful behavior) than to expose our kids to other power users’ stories and lessons learned, especially when the motive is to spare pain and spread wisdom?

“I have been called everything except ‘the child of God’ on the Internet,” Ramsey told Forleo, adding that she also loves the Internet (we can tell). To her credit and for her fans’ benefit, Ramsey shares what she learned about navigating that love-hate spectrum. Here are just two things I particularly appreciated (for more, do watch the 50 min. interview or read her book):

Call-outs & call-ins

Ramsey describes the difference between calling someone out publicly, as people do in social media (for good or ill), and calling them in. With the latter, she explains, you have a personal relationship with the person and feel a private conversation about that thing you’d otherwise call them out for would be more helpful to them.

“The person may have genuinely screwed up or just become confused,” so “you take them aside [DM, text them, take them out for coffee] and say, ‘Look, here’s why what you said was really not ok.'”

In fact, this is one way social media sometimes works better than in-person interaction. You have time to decide how best to respond. Ramsey offers “6 call-out rules” or questions that, to me, represent both media literacy and social literacy (as in where the social emotional learning experts at Yale University teach students to take a “meta-moment” before reacting, posting, tweeting with a call-out):

1. “What’s the issue?
2. “What’s at stake?
3. “Do I have all the details?” (This is so great, because often we don’t know why people say what they do, whether because they intend to hurt, are hurting themselves or are making a mistake.)
4. “Why am I doing this?” (An equally great question, a motive check.)
5. “What are the best and worst scenarios that could follow this callout?” (It never hurts to think about the potential impacts, right?)
6. “Would it be better to call in instead?”

These are great questions to ask ourselves before joining a pile-on of judgment online or offline, right? Especially when call-out sessions can be pretty performative – much more about the people doing the calling out than the person on the receiving end – and can easily turn on the sender. In fact, No. 4 could include sub-questions like, Do I really want to join a performance of other people’s judgment, or do I want to actually communicate something?

A contract with oneself

Marie Forleo and Franchesca Ramsey

Marie Forleo and Franchesca Ramsey: A fun interview to watch

Ramsey tells a little story about how she was “at a party, and I ran into this girl that I’d had a lot of negative feelings about [online], and she was so nice when I met her in person. She gave me this really great advice about creating a contract with yourself … and not measuring yourself against anyone else.” She said this was a turning point in her work.

As she was talking about this, I thought of the “family contract” that many online safety organizations recommend for when parents give their kids smartphones or want to establish digital safety rules. It’s a great idea as a tool for learning and committing to responsible online behavior, yes. But maybe it doesn’t end there. Maybe it’s a first step in the development of self-awareness and –control – the contract with ourselves that lasts (and protects for) a lifetime. Ramsey was talking about commitment to herself about how she’d use social media going forward, how she’d represent herself and her work in media she engages with. For example, she told Marie Forleo, “We should not lower our own moral standards in order to call someone out.” Clearly that comes from her contract with herself.

There is so much more social media literacy to draw from this interview, so check it out – and see if any ChescaLeigh fans you know would be interested in downloading some of the lessons she’s learned. But even if not, Ramsey’s giving guidance on how to help young social media users navigate growing up.

Related links

  • About that other vital protection against trolling, cyberbullying and online harassment: resilience. Here’s NPR on resilience training for schools developed by my friend and colleague Dr. Mary Alvord, a clinical psychologist in Maryland. “The Resilience Builder Program teaches young students techniques for handling tough emotions, like visualizing a remote control for thoughts so they can switch from negative to happier feelings,” NPR reports.
  • About the three “digital age literacies” in the report of the Aspen Task Force on Learning & the Internet
  • See this post for more on how media literacy, social literacy and digital literacy enable and support our children’s citizenship, online and offline
  • Here‘s Franchesca Ramsey’s YouTube channel
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