Digital citizenship applies to adults as well as youth: Conversation with Rebecca Randall of Common Sense Media

Much of the focus around this week’s celebration of Digital Citizenship Week centers around children and teens. But, guess what? Adults are citizens too and need to be included in the conversation.

I thought about this when I was speaking with Rebecca Randall, Vice President of Education for Common Sense Media. Rebecca is one of the architects of the organization’s digital citizenship curriculum that’s delivered in primary and secondary schools around the country. Yet, much of what she had to say applied to adults as well as kids. I wound up asking Rebecca about the incidents that led Zelda Williams (Robin William’s adult daughter) to quit social media for awhile and later return to Twitter and other social networks.

Zelda Williams and Monica Lewinsky

It’s a story of both cruelty and kindness. In the after-math of her father’s suicide, Ms. Williams was subjected to mean tweets and posts prompting her to say on Instagram, “I will be leaving this account for a bit while I heal and decide if I’ll be deleting it or not.” She added, “In this difficult time, please try to be respectful of the accounts of myself, my family and my friends. Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me on the number of them is cruel and unnecessary. …”

Yet, as Rebecca Randall pointed out in our podcast, Ms. Williams was also the beneficiary of kindness from complete strangers, which helped convince her to return to social media, starting with the tweet. “I just want to say thank you for all the stories and letters I’ve been receiving, especially from those who’ve also lost loved ones.” You can follow Ms. Williams at @zeldawilliams.

Another famous person, Monica Lewinsky, recently began speaking out about cyberbullying, based on her experience as a young adult who had her “reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet” after it was disclosed that she had a sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton while he was president. “Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too,” she said at the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 summit.

Cyberbullied by Howard Stern

I haven’t had as much focused media attention as Lewinsky or Williams but — as a broadcast, online and print journalist — I do put myself in the public spotlight and I know what it’s like to be abused by fellow adults. While he was doing his terrestrial radio show, Howard Stern would frequently play clips from my CBS tech reports and over modulate the sound to exaggerate my lisp (here is one example). It was hurtful and embarrassing. I’ve struggled with that lisp since childhood (it used to be a lot worse) and managed to build a radio career despite it and the last thing I wanted was to have it repeatedly pointed out by a famous radio personality. I also know what it’s like to be ridiculed by anonymous strangers. It happens all the time in the comments below my online articles – sometimes with people making fun of the way I look or talk or accusing me of accepting bribes from tech companies because they disagreed with my review of a product.

Can affect anyone

You don’t have to be a public figure to experience trolling and ridicule. As Rebecca Randall points out in this podcast, just about anyone can experience their “15 minutes of fame,” but thanks to the Internet it can remain online for a lifetime.

Listen to Larry’s conversation with Rebecca Randall, Vice President of Education for Common Sense Media