You know that’s not your child’s Internet, right?

By Anne Collier

So Amina Arraf, “gay girl in Damascus,” was actually a straight man from Georgia, USA, living in Scotland. “We could not make this up,” wrote reporter Monica Hesse in the Washington Post. But regardless of how many similar Internet fictions she points to and how great her writing is, this is very unlikely to be your children’s Internet, parents – just enjoy the story. How can I say that? Because for most kids the Internet is a very social experience, Facebook is the focus of that sociality, and the context of what happens on Facebook is school, not the Internet. Though this is research-based it’s also just logical. For generations, kids’ social lives have revolved around school and, increasingly secondarily (as they grow) family life, and the same goes, now, for their online sociality. Anonymity can be a factor but not the dominant one. Remember the famous 1990s New Yorker cartoon with the caption, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”? Well, that was more the Net (and the worry) of the ’90s. Today the prevailing experience (and worry) was better summed up in Slate in 2006 with “On the Internet, everybody knows you’re a dog” (though I feel about the same way about the article under that subhead as I did about Bill Keller’s hand-wringing at the New York Times recently). Certainly “everybody knows you’re a dog” brings its own problems that we need to work through and there has never been a greater need for media-literacy instruction, but our children are better than we usually give them credit for at distinguishing between fact and fiction, sincerity and deception, in their online experiences just as at school, and if we’re not sure we can tell the difference when we look at their Facebook profiles, we should ask for their help. Of course, if you have a kid at your house who can develop the kind of fan base “A Gay Girl in Damascus” had, s/he should definitely read the Post story – and a lot more – about how to negotiate the implications of being a child with that much talent.

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