Citizenship & social change: Insight from the IBPA

By Anne Collier

“Citizenship is relationship … digital citizenship is relationship amplified,” said Gary McDaniel, a clinical social worker for Morgan County School District in West Virginia, on a panel at the International Bullying Prevention Association’s annual conference in New Orleans this week. I had the honor of kicking off this keynote panel, offering a little background on the discussion of digital citizenship over the past few years. My research has turned up other elements of digital citizenship (see this), but I think this is an important insight from someone who understands very well how relationships and community support us and puts that understanding into practice in restorative ways on a daily basis.

“Relationship amplified” can have either positive or negative results. On the negative side, arguments or anger amplified or instantly distributed online can turn into cyberbullying and other destructive behavior, just as in “real life.” On the positive side, “relationship amplified” can snowball a small act of kindness, one person’s vision, or grassroots activism into solutions to global problems (see the Nerdfighters; I learned about the latter from fellow panelist, social activist, and high school student Aidan McDaniel, Gary’s son). Whether viewed as good or ill effects, the social changes in the Middle East this past year couldn’t have developed without the online amplification of relationships and community on many levels, online and offline.

So this new digitally supported brand of citizenship in the world, online and offline, needs rooting in positive interaction and support: what’s known as community, family, congregation, social network (positive interaction and support both online and offline, but never without the offline part). We can’t have citizenship without community – not the whole vast Internet as community, but many communities of all kinds, expressed and participated in on the Internet as well as in offline life. Safety, wellbeing and privacy – as John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas at USC write in their new book, A New Culture of Learning – need to be placed and understood in context, the context of community, which is a network of relationships (see this), or “relationship amplified.” Let’s together – students, parents, educators, advocates, policymakers, and the social-media industry – work to foster the environmental conditions and social norms (online and at home and school) that support and inspire change agents of all ages. [See also “We need to work out the social norms of social media: Why?”]

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