Last month, I had the opportunity to partake in a FOSI virtual event: “COVID-19, Civility, and Citizenship,” as the Founder and CEO of ReThink, a social enterprise tackling online hate. Since the onset of COVID-19, I have seen immense and growing interest in having a conversation on what COVID-19 has meant for digital citizenship. To answer that question, I joined Rosalind Wiseman, the founder of Cultures of Dignity, an organization focused on supporting children’s mental health and well being, and it was a fascinating conversation. Here is what we learned:
- COVID-19 has presented a silent crisis: COVID-19 is, first and foremost, a humanitarian crisis — countless lives have been lost, and the virus’s future reach is unknown. Second to this health crisis is the economic uncertainty families now face: in April, the US unemployment rate rose to an astonishing 14.7%. In other words — it’s been a tough time, all around. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has also presented another unique problem: prolonged use of technology — especially by young people — and rising levels of online hate. This crisis — which has received less discussion and attention — warrants serious discussion.
- Increased screen time is particularly concerning: Pre-COVID-19, young people were already living their lives online, but post-COVID-19, there seems to be no distinction between their lives and the digital world. Whether engaging in e-learning or saying hello to friends, everything is digital. As I discussed in our conversation, not only is increased screen time a concern for young people’s health — too much tech time has been associated with everything from sleep disruption to obesity — it’s building a dangerous habit that may last well after in-person interactions recuperate. Studies have consistently shown that for young people, especially, screen time can be too attractive. If educators and parents are not intentional about supervising screen time, the consequences may be long-lasting.
- Discrimination against Asian-American communities is a serious problem: Sometimes, the result of these often unsupervised, lengthy periods of time online has been cyberbullying and digital harassment. Indeed, in the past month, instances of xenophobia, hate crimes, and racism — often targeting Asian Americans — have risen, both online and offline. In New York, the New York Commission on Human Rights says claims of Asian-American discrimination and harassment have risen over 1000% relative to the same period in 2019. Now, more than ever, it is so important that we come together — to support, empower, and care for one another. Instead, we’ve seen the opposite. Rosalind and I both condemned this hate, which we saw as unacceptable.
- We have an opportunity: With all of that said, Rosalind and I both acknowledged — and emphasized — COVID-19 presents a tremendous opportunity, in two key ways.
First, COVID-19 gives parents and educators the opportunity to create a teachable moment around digital citizenship and civility. Many parents — of younger kids, and tech-savvy teens — have not had the “technology talk,” so to speak. Now is a great time to talk to your kids — about screen time, treating others with respect, and the responsibility associated with being a digital citizen. Parents can turn to tools like my anti-cyberbullying app, ReThink, for help. ReThink is an award-winning, innovative, patented app that effectively detects and stops online hate, before the damage is done. By giving adolescents a nudge in real-time (“Are you sure you want to post this?”), ReThink helps transform users into empowered, responsible digital citizens. To learn more about ReThink (available in six languages, now including French, Italian, and Greek):, visit: www.rethinkwords.com.
Second, COVID-19 has exposed a number of important, existing problems — especially in the educational world — and given us yet another reason to act. During COVID-19, disparities in access to critical learning resources - especially digital resources, like devices, Wi-Fi, etc. - have presented serious e-learning issues across the U.S. and globally. As Rosalind and I noted, these issues have always been there; COVID-19 has simply made it clear how important it is that we tackle them. We cannot let this moment get away from us — we must take action.
And indeed, one action, one conversation, and one moment can be powerful - and it all starts with you.
Click here to view the full conversation from COVID-19, Civility and Citizenship. This blog commemorates Internet Safety Month, which happens every June.