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A Lesson in Digital Responsibility

 “Sexting” and other digital shenanigans are not just child’s play, it seems. Experts agree that education is key to reversing this trend, and that adults need to set the proper tone with their own behavior.

U.S. Congressman Christopher Lee (R-NY) resigned his office after emails and a topless picture of him were found in response to a Craigslist dating ad. In the picture Lee, the married delegate from New York's 26th District, is shown sans shirt, flexing for a self-portrait that was sent from a email account he admits belongs to him.

On the heels of the Brett Favre scandal, where the quarterback was accused of sending nude photos and inappropriate voicemails to a New York Jets employee, and the Vanessa Hudgens controversy, in which self-shot nude photographs of her were leaked online, Lee's indiscretion appears tame. While attempted infidelity is not a crime, the fact that a member of Congress used “sexting” to allegedly perpetrate the act has experts calling for more education on the issue.

“Lee's mistake is a viable reminder that educating responsible use should be a key activity in U.S. schools,” Elliot Soloway, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and digital expert, said. “We have to start teaching early that digital is forever.”

Cathie Norris, Regents Professor at the University of North Texas, agrees.

“We want to make responsible users of social media,” Norris said. “What kids don't realize is that this is a permanent record. They don't fully comprehend the finality of hitting the send button.”

Lee released a statement expressing his regret.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.

Tips for schools wanting to prepare students to be good digital citizens include:

  • Implement a school-wide curriculum that addresses safety issues related to digital media. Members of law enforcement are in a good position to provide such training, since digital misbehavior sometimes crosses the line into criminal behavior. Don’t forget to invite parents, as they are the first line of defense in terms of kids’ at-home use of technology.
  • Expect school staff to be good role models in their personal use of technology (e.g., being conscious of what they post on Facebook, refraining from texting, emailing or “friending” individual students).
  • Set policies regarding appropriate use of technology devices (both school-owned and personal devices) in the building, and make sure these policies are well understood by the entire school community.
  • If your state has anti-bullying law in place, find out whether cyberbullying is part of the law. While it can be difficult to address student behavior that occurs off school grounds, schools may be justified in intervening in situations where off-premises misuse of technology negatively impacts the learning environment.
  • Consider using closed social media tools like EdMoto and Saywire as part of classroom instruction. This can help model the appropriate use of social media technology and perhaps open class discussion on the lasting negative impact that can result from misuse of technology.


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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