samedi, mai 14, 2011

Online on the dark side

As you can see from previous posts this past week, I'm doing my usual wrestling with the way the Internet can help us communicate -- and amplify our flaws. Sometimes, having instant and easy access can definitely bring out the worst in us.

I've had people say things to me online that they would never have the "cojones" to say in real life. I've heard people confess to writing emails to others that they come to regret. I've had instant message conversations that went to places I certainly didn't intend going.

Haven't you been wounded by someone's harsh language or temper tantrum while chatting? It doesn't feel less real because it's happening monitor-to-monitor. It's so easy to misread someone's intent...or to read it too well.

Recently, I've been trying to figure out how to cope with another situation that threatens to turn ugly. Only this one involves my son.

Someone at his school created a fake page under the name of another student. While I haven't seen the actual profile, I am aware that there's some odd and maybe a little risque (for middle school) stuff being posted on the page.

And the kids at school are blaming it on my seventh-grader. Any questions I might have had about whether he had anything to do with it or not were torched last week when my son posted a message on Facebook, and the "Jimmy" page called it "gay."

Given that we taught our kids not to use the word gay in a way that is derogatory, and that the first message was a sweet Mother's Day 'thank-you', I'm positive that the creator wasn't him. In an online confrontation my daughter had with the voice behind the page, it emerged that it had some connection to a boy from my son's elementary school -- already known as a seasoned hacker in fifth grade. But he's not the creator.

But my boy is being blamed. A boy who thinks the best of everyone is being, candidly, bullied. Taunted online for posting the page, he's also aroused the enmity of the boy who was the original butt. At the same time, more and more kids are "friending" the fake page of a real boy who isn't allowed on Facebook.

I have no idea what to do about it. It's not really a school issue, though I may call the school. It's more of a drip, drip, drip issue -- and I worry that, if I turn my attention to something else, it may get worse.

Adults should know better -- and often we learn from our errors. Often.

But what do we do if the kids, so much better at the technology, have no idea of the power they wield -- to build up and encourage, or tear down and harm? It would be nice if they learned a useful lesson in kindness now -- before they go out and mess around on a larger playground.

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