Teaching Children Ethical Tweeting with Open-Ended Hashtags.
In the media world there is a huge taboo against utilizing open-ended hashtags, the reason being that marketing hashtags that are not specific allows for the general public to “hijack” the phrase, adding negative commentary/connotations. For example, #friesnotnachos and #nachosnotfries is specific. People can tweet one or the other, making a clear choice, do you prefer nachos or fries? The food company that hypothetically put these phrases out there, can keep an eye on which phrase is being tweeted more, thus gaining market insights. On the other hand, #materialpshychologyis would be considered a dangerous hashtag to put out on the net because anyone could come forward and tweet something like “#materialpsychologyis poop”.
*On a side note, if you ask a Freudian, this statement may not necessarily be an insult (a joke just for psychologists).
In any case, the point is that open-ended hashtags are a big no no. My question is why? We know that social media has become, for many, an outlet for frustration and, sometimes, outright aggression. Of course we want to minimize the negativity out there, but is limiting discourse to specific answers a real solution? For just a moment, imagine a world where you could express yourself on the web without fear of a pandemic, viral backlash. In my eyes, a realistic, sustainable solution is to educate children to network and yes, to tweet ethically. The world needs to grow.
Tweeting can potentially be seen as a social-emotional skill. It requires much forethought, as well as an in depth understanding of human interaction on a world wide scale. Do we as a society even have a clear definition for “Ethical Tweeting”, or networking in general? What does digital citizenship really mean? In many ways, the Earth is still in early developmental stages when it comes to owning a World Wide Web. How do we ensure a safe, non-toxic environment, whilst avoiding the curtailing of freedoms of expression? How can this balance be achieved? Our children will hopefully come up with a workable solution to this equation.
Although, it is still hard to clearly define ethical tweeting, I think that practicing open-ended tweeting is a marvelous way of developing this skill. In small groups, children act out tweeting in a collaborative and open forum. As a teacher, you could facilitate these kinds of exercises. Look at the following example activity.
Write on the board one or a few open-ended tags (e.g. #myteacheris #myschoolis #wedo #whenwaiting #squirrelsdrive #lifeneverasked). Instruct your students that you want them to respond with “Tweets” on the board, informing them that they should try to form statements that are meaningful, interesting, funny, etc. Let them write in turns or in small groups at a time, whatever you prefer. Once everyone has written something, have them come back and draw a small bird next to the statement that they would share with others. Facilitate a discussion about which statements are more ethical and which could be hurtful. The more popular ones may often also require a bit of ethical “tweaking”.
In more advanced classes, maybe try to define, as a group, what ethical tweeting means. Remember, it will be up to our children to come up with a workable definition. Why not start now?
As you can see, utilizing open-ended hashtags when tweeting allows for a high level of freedom of expression. Notice how the last tag (#lifeneverasked) is an invitation for deep philosophical thinking, or at a minimum a highly creative joke. Any activity that requires so much creativity, in my opinion, provides a healthy breeding ground for social-emotional learning.
For years, psychologists have been utilizing open-ended questions as a form of eliciting responses that uncover the emotions and personality of people. When working with children, psychologists often use sentence completion tests (i.e. open-ended sentences), which include a stem (e.g. “I always like to…”) and a request to complete the phrase. Open-ended hashtags, in a way, are an extension of this concept into the age of networking and that is why I sometimes refer to them as stem tags. In fact, I even opened a Twitter account @StemTags. So, if you give this exercise a shot, then feel free to tag me with some feedback. You can also follow me to take part in responding to the random stem tags that I throw out there for the creative tweeting world. Just please, do not call Material Psychology poop, even if you are a Freudian Analyst.
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(Just click on the image.)