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“5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place”, With Author Diana Graber

Words can be very hurtful. Additionally when they happen online, they stay online forever (usually) AND they can be shared and seen by vast, invisible audiences. Thus, the hurt never goes away. As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and […]

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Words can be very hurtful. Additionally when they happen online, they stay online forever (usually) AND they can be shared and seen by vast, invisible audiences. Thus, the hurt never goes away.


As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Diana Graber, Author of RAISING HUMANS IN A DIGITAL WORLD: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology (HarperCollins Leadership; January 15, 2019). Digital Literacy educator and advocate Diana Graber is the cofounder of Cyberwise, a leading online safety and digital literacy organization. She is also the founder of Cyber Civics, the popular and innovative middle school digital citizenship and literacy program currently being taught in 43 US states, and internationally. Both Cyberwise and Cyber Civics were founded after Graber earned one of the first-ever master’s degrees in a new field of study: Media Psychology and Social Change. Graber earned a BA in Communications Studies at UCLA and her MA from Fielding Graduate University. She has taught media psychology at the graduate level and still teaches Cyber Civics to middle school students at Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, where the program was launched. She travels widely, speaking to parent groups and training teachers to teach Cyber Civics in their own schools. The National Association for Media Literacy Education honored her with the 2017 Media Literacy Teacher Award. As a media producer who has been involved in numerous award-winning projects, Graber is part of Graber Productions, a video and film production company launched by her husband, an eight-time Emmy recipient. She resides with her family in Capistrano Beach, CA, and can often be found on her mountain bike.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

In 2011, my daughters’ small school experienced its first incident of “cyber-cruelty.” Since I had just finished a master’s program in media psychology and had published a paper about teaching kids to be good digital citizens, I figured I might be able to help students learn how to be kinder and smarter online. With the students’ help, we crafted and in-school program that is now being taught across the US and in other countries too.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The big surprise is how much parent appreciate the curriculum and the work we do with kids. One interesting story from working with kids is how, when you teach them about the online world, they start looking out for each other in surprising ways, as in this incident…

One morning Billy showed up late for class, burst into the room, and marched up to the desk of a pretty girl named April. April had joined the eighth-grade class that year and thus had missed all our previous digital reputation lessons. She had an Instagram account that most of the kids in the class followed, and the night prior she had posted a selfie. In the photo, taken at the beach, she was wearing a tiny bikini and had struck an extremely provocative pose. It was a photo you’d expect the average, red-blooded, eighth-grade boy to love! But that’s what surprised me. Instead of snickering about the photo behind her back, Billy strode up to April to give her a good scolding. “You should delete that stupid picture you posted,” he said. “It’s gonna ruin your digital reputation.” She sat there for a moment, trying to figure out what the heck Billy was talking about, before dashing out of the classroom in tears. Although I felt sorry for April, and thought Billy’s delivery a bit harsh, it struck me that he’d done what I’d been hoping my students would do: look out for one another in an environment where there are no adults looking out for them. In his crude and somewhat insensitive manner, Billy had done just that. April went home that day and deleted the post.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I teach kids how important it is to manage their digital reputations, yet I still make mistakes with my own digital reputation! One year I went on a ski trip and had to find a way to get out of a meeting I had scheduled. So I told my client that I had another “meeting” and would have to cancel. While on my trip one of my friends took a picture of us skiing, uploaded it and tagged me. It was embarrassing, but a good reminder for the woman that teaches Cyber Civics!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, I am traveling now to deliver talks about how to be human in a digital world. I think people need to be reminded that behind every screen is a real human with real feelings.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?

Yes, someone impersonated me online and made cruel and negative comments that seemed like they were coming from me.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I asked the site administrator to take the post down, and not respond to it. It still felt very hurtful.

Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?

No, I try to think twice, post once. I do have a problem with online sarcasm though! And that never goes over well online.

When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?

Words can be very hurtful. Additionally when they happen online, they stay online forever (usually) AND they can be shared and seen by vast, invisible audiences. Thus, the hurt never goes away.

Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?

An online argument can feel worse because it lives online forever. You can’t go home and get away from it. In real life the incident is over once the words are spoken.

What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?

It can severely damage their reputation.

Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?

-Because of “disinhibition”… people tend to be emboldened to say or do things online they would never say or do in real life.

-There are no facial expressions or social cues to let people know how someone on the other end is feeling.

-It is so immediate. Many people don’t take time to reflect on consequences before they post.

If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?

-Think before you post.

-Remember there is a real person behind the screen.

-Don’t post something you would never say or do in real life.

Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?

As one of my students said, yes they have the right, but that doesn’t make it “right.”

If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?

I’d make a pause button. We have the right to free speech, but not the right to immediacy. I don’t think posts, videos, photos, should always be posted instantaneously. Human reviewers should have time to assess content before it is published.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you can be anything, be kind.” It is relevant to everything in life.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Wow this one stumped me, but I do have to say that some celebrities are brilliant on Twitter, funny, smart, and generally kind. A few that come to mind are Anna Kendrick, Ryan Reynolds, Ashton Kutcher.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@dianagraber, @becyberwise, @cybercivics on Twitter

@becyberwise on Facebook

@cyber_civics and @becyberwise on Instagram

Book Website — www.dianagraber.com

CyberWise www.cyberwise.org

Cyber Civics www.cybercivics.com

Twitter: @dianagraber

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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