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I love a good western. Old or modern day, it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy how they are action packet with battles between good and bad guys. And I absolutely love social media. I’ve found it to be a valuable resource for me as an educator.

Recently, I was watching a western and thought to myself that what happened, according to Hollywood, in the old west has similarities to what is happening in some of our social media communities. Lawless, unchecked, and inaccurate information in the old west which was passed along by word of mouth is now passed along on various social media platforms at a pace so fast it can’t be timed. The old west portrayed mob justice as righting wrongs and today it’s righting perceived wrongs on any given day at the click of a button. Maybe it’s more apparent with the upcoming presidential election. Maybe I’m just paying more attention because of my affinity to social media and how I’ve found it to beneficial to my professional learning. Or maybe it’s actually growing worse. No matter the reason, what each western has, and what I hope is starting to develop in social media, is a fight for decency.

Today, there is a push to work with our students on these issues by teaching Digital Citizenship and I believe this is a good approach. However, I don’t think it goes deep enough and doesn’t include everyone who needs to understand how we should act and what we should post on our social media feeds. Instead we should be teaching and expecting Digital Decency of all who use social media.

Everyone one of us needs to consider these 10 ways to Digital Decency:

  1. Do not assume what you read online is accurate. Actually, be pessimistic and check the facts. Too many of us immediately accept it as truth, if it’s in print (online). This feeds a fevered pitch of misunderstanding, misplaced anger, concern or unnecessary emotion. Recently, I read a post on Facebook from an old friend who is a highly intelligent and even-keeled individual. He was concerned over a story about a terrorist investigation near us. This resulted in comments by others who were equally concerned, and my wife brought it up to me during a pre-dinner conversation. I looked at the article and immediately realized it was from January 2015. The issue was over 15 months ago! It was no longer relevant. There was no need for panic or fear being expressed in the comments section of my friend’s post.
  2. We are responsible for the content we post. So many posts are rants, that were once information only provided to our most trusted friends or something we would never say in public. Today, it’s for public consumption. We need to think about what we are posting, how much detail we are providing, and the message we are sending to others.
  3. NEVER post in anger. NEVER! It’s a regret waiting to happen.
  4. If you post it, expect others to respond and don’t assume the responses will agree with you. There are dozens of stories of people posting something on a social media feed and losing their jobs. Just Google “lost job because of social media” and you will get a list. Here is just one of those links.
  5. No one is perfect. It seems that social media creates this holier than thou environment when someone is less than perfect. We need to be reflective and understand that none of us are perfect and as a result we should not post as if we are.
  6. Kids make mistakes. All of our kids make mistakes! Going along with #5 above, we hold kids to a higher standard on social media. So many posts and replies discuss how horrible a kid is and people respond how their own child would never do whatever is being discussed. At some point all of our kids will do something wrong, because they are kids, because they make mistakes, because they are not perfect, because they don’t understand the permanency and reach of social media, and our kids will be the topic of the discussion post and replies that follow. So we need to be careful of what we post, how we judge, and what we say about someone else’s kid (See #4 above).
  7. Adults make mistakes. But we should be more aware of our social media responses compared to kids. That said, we all make mistakes. One of the earliest lessons I remember from my father was when he told me, “Think before you talk”. At the time it seemed a strange comment but I learned what he meant overtime. Have I always followed that lesson? No, I’ve made mistakes by talking without thinking but for the vast majority of my life I’ve made an effort to live by the lesson. Maybe today it should be reworded to, “Think before you post on social media” (Also see #6 above).
  8. My view is no more important than your view. Unless someone is spouting racist, illegal, or violent views. Then everyone else’s views are more important! I don’t know if there was ever a time when we could fairly debate and, although not agree with the other person, respect what was being said. It is not a common occurrence on social media.
  9. Put the device down. There’s a wonderful world out there, just look up from your device and you will see and experience it. I’m as guilty as the next person with being on my device too much. Recently, I left my phone at home when the family went out to dinner. After the initial feeling of panic I realized it was ok, I’d be ok, and the time was better served talking, laughing, and being with my family. We are hooked to our devices. But we don’t have to be… at least not all the time.
  10. Find the positives associated with social media. Provide accurate and current information. Add to the conversation in a way that changes the negativity. Be positive and supportive. Work toward and expect Digital Decency!

Our fight for Digital Decency doesn’t need a sheriff of social media or a posse of deputized digital decency officers. It just needs a commitment to doing what’s right, realizing that the freedom, or lawlessness depending on your opinion, of social media comes with expectations of common decency and control of what we put out for public consumption and how critical we are of others. If we all work on it, those issues that make us question how social media is used will fade away like the horse and rider into the sunset at the end of the western.