It’s hard to think of a recent digital technology issue that’s captured the public imagination more than sexting. This may be because it combines elements of the classic moral panic with more modern “technopanic,” provoking worries not just about the morality of our children – and, in particular, young girls – but also about the possible effects of technology on how we grow, think and behave. As with most panics, of course, the issue is substantially more complicated and less sensational than we perceive it to be, and while it’s unlikely that our worries about sexting will ever seem in retrospect to be as absurd as our grandparents’ fears about crime comics, MediaSmarts’ new data shows that many of our beliefs and assumptions on the subject need closer examination.
There’s a long-standing relationship between sex and the Internet. As far as back the 1980s, Usenet and local bulletin board systems were used to share pornographic text files and crude (in both senses) graphics, and people have been using digital media to form and carry out online relationships at least as long. However, just as estimates of how much online traffic and content is made up of sexual material tend to be exaggerated, our new report – Sexuality and Romantic Relationships in the Digital Age – from MediaSmarts’ Young Canadians in a Wired World survey of 5,436 students, shows that for Canadian youth, sexuality and romantic relationships play a fairly small part of their online lives.
Do young people care about privacy? Participants in MediaSmarts’ 2012 focus groups told us that they valued their privacy highly, despite being enthusiastic participants in platforms and activities that adults see as being about nothing but sharing and broadcasting. Looking at the findings from our Young Canadians in a Wired World survey of more than five thousand students from every province and territory in Canada, we can begin to understand that contradiction: young people may not care that much about what we think of as privacy, but they care very much about control – control over who can see what they post, over who can track them digitally and, most especially, over how other people see them.
We always hear that sharing is a good thing. And thanks to technology, we can share our ideas, opinions, pictures and videos with our friends and other people we choose to share it with. Most of the time, sharing is good. But if we aren’t thoughtful about how we share, we run the risk of hurting ourselves or someone else. Also, remember that the things you share with your friends can end up being shared with others. That’s why it’s important to think before you share.
When we were approached by the team at MediaSmarts about getting involved in this year’s Media Literacy Week, we immediately jumped at the chance to participate in this important initiative. Why? Because we are in a new era.
The theme of this year’s Media Literacy Week, “What’s Being Sold: Helping Kids Make Sense of Marketing Messages” is one I personally feel strongly about. After all, I’ve spent my entire career working in all aspects of marketing and communications. At the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), I’m responsible for the department filled with people who are experts in advertising and communications, social media and public relations.
Using social media in the classroom isn’t a complex feat, even though it may seem that way. What I think is a great idea is to instill social media literacy in students by crafting assignments around Twitter, Pinterest or Tumblr, for example. I’ve compiled a list of four tips to help you do just that:
When I finished Grade 11 in June, I reflected on what I had learned in the past school year. I was taught how to solve quadratic equations, the origins of world religions and studied the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Oh and I know the legal requirements of marriage! But there was something I wasn’t taught. Scrolling down my Twitter timeline, it hit me – why was I never taught anything about social media?
Snapchat, the mobile app that lets users send “self-destructing” photos, has the distinction of being the only digital tool that does not have a single redeeming feature. While the moral panic associated with blogs, cell phones, social networks and online games has largely faded in grudging recognition of their more positive uses (indeed, research shows that many parents have actually helped their children lie about their age register for Facebook accounts), Snapchat is seen as the Q-tip of the digital age: its sole function is to do the thing that you’re warned not to do on the box.