Further Defining Digital Literacies: The Ethics of Information Creation

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE ethics

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

The theme I am exploring today is all about the ethics behind creating, posting and sharing content, and the moral obligations of the writers and artists and makers who feed word and art into those network spaces. What an important topic, and one, too long ignored.

As a teacher, I often have conversations with my young students about what they are sharing and why. This year, it’s Tik Tok. Last year, it was Instagram. Before that, it was Music.ly (which became Tik Tok, in the strange recursive nature of the technology world).  Before that, it was Vine. You get the point. Most of my students readily admit that they hit “send” or “post” without thinking twice about what they are sending forward, and to whom, doing it on a whim.

All of us, adults and children alike, have transformed into this vast snake of forward motion, it seems, and it is right in this corridor of shadows and thoughtless sharing, that fake news and hidden-meaning-memes and other nefarious things flourish and prosper, creating a cloud of negativity and darkness in the networks we all use, together.

We see this most visibly with Facebook, but also with other social networking spaces, where the system of “likes” and “shares” has social value, not the quality of information or reflective practice. When all that matters for visibility is the number of thumbs ups or stars, all that matters is for content that hits emotional nerves to be what one sends out to the world.

These guiding questions of this section of Digital Literacies are helpful to consider, and provide a guide on what topics to revisit regularly with our students:

  • Do learners share information in ways that consider all sources?
  • Do learners consider the contributors and authenticity of all sources?
  • Do learners practice the safe and legal use of technology?
  • Do learners create products that are both informative and ethical?
  • Do learners avoid accessing another computer’s system, software, or data files without permission?
  • Do learners engage in discursive practices in online social systems with others without deliberately or inadvertently demeaning individuals and/or groups?
  • Do learners attend to the acceptable use policies of organizations and institutions?
  • Do learners attend to the terms of service and/or terms of use of digital software and tools?
  • Do learners read, review, and understand the terms of service/use that they agree to as they utilize these tools?
  • Do learners respect the intellectual property of others and only utilize materials they are licensed to access, remix, and/or share?
  • Do learners respect and follow the copyright information and appropriate licenses given to digital content as they work online?

In fact, this strand could be an entire semester course on ethical writing in an online world. What if that were required for all high school students, everywhere? Would we start to finally see a shift towards the positive?

It seems to me that we have, without much thought about the consequences, bought into what social networks have told us is social capital — the likes and the shares. (Which for these businesses, is advertising data, which becomes money and profit) We, the writers and creators, need to push back, hard, on this playbook, to make visible the kinds of responsible, supportive, creative endeavors we know the promise of technology may hold.

And if a network does not bend to the will of the users, then it is time to abandon that network and find another place to connect. One thing we can say about young users is they are not afraid to jump ship when one platform no longer meets their needs (the counter to this is, they don’t often think clearly about the new ship they’ve joined). A sense of agency — that users ultimately decide what platforms will prosper and which ones will fail — is an important lesson to teach all young people growing up in close proximity of digital spaces.

This work begins now, in our classrooms, and in our homes.

Peace (flourishes in the light),


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