Ever wonder how to teach young people about what can happen to information they post online? Canadian author and journalist Cory Doctorow has a great idea: show them on/with the Web. In a video interview he gave the European Commission’s Net-safety program, Insafe, he talks about how we can now literally watch the diffusion of communication, behavior, and information in real time on the social Web – a sociologist’s dream come true. So parents and educators might consider this sociology lesson plan:
“You could sit down with your kids and say, ‘Last month this school was in turmoil about some rumor, some terrible thing some student did, or some health risk – someone had cooties or swine flu or something else. Let’s watch the diffusion of that information. We have the social network, right? Who wants to volunteer to go through your email box, your instant-messenger record, your twitter stream, and tell me about the first time that rumor or information appeared – when you heard it next, how it mutated? Let’s do a big class project and find all the ways that information spread.’ And then say, ‘Who here was thinking about putting a naked picture of yourself online? Look at this diffusion of information – look at what’s happened here.'” He continues: “You can teach an awful lot about epidemiology and social idea diffusion by starting a harmless rumor and then tracking its growth through a network [community of people, not necessarily an online social network] and using a hashtag or distinctive term [e.g., a fake word like "mixoplex" and "come up with a bunch of characteristics it has"] and watch it spread … 4 cases in Hertfordshire … it’s spreading and what are we going to do about it … have a daily class project …. and think together about how a flu would spread from person to person, then how an idea would spread from person to person and then a naked picture of yourself and how it would spread from person to person.” The simple aim being, he told insafe, to “turn the thing that they’re already obsessed with into a tool that teaches them to use it better, rather than telling them they need to stop it. Telling kids that the thing they love is wrong is probably a non-starter…. It just doesn’t work very well.” But don’t trust my transcribing – listen to the whole fascinating video!