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Trolls, bots, and memes become parents’ new nightmare. So what’s the solution?

A friend recently asked me if someone should be putting together a source for parents who have to address so much in the lives of their digital natives. I have a few go-to websites that we use as teachers, but was struggling to find a good hand book.

First two of the best web-based resources I recommend.

COMMON SENSE MEDIA – This is a wonderful, deep trove of information that is updated with plenty of topics (plus short videos) on such from phone addiction, and fake news, to privacy tips and how to navigate the difficult world of plagiarism, copyright, password protection, oversharing etc.

EDUTOPIAAnother great place for articles on technology skills such as coding, academic skills being taught such as note-taking, problem-solving, state standards, digital citizenship etc.

But the reality is that almost every week, children are bombarded and confused by new issues. One week it’s plagiarism, the next it is memes, and add to that the constant misinformation through bots and trolls, followed by the news related to cyber-bullying or inappropriate behavior that pops up on TV or their social media feeds. The search engines and social media platforms are often gamed by bots, and tricked by pranksters, but who has time to inform the kids about these fast-moving events?

So the sad thing, as I had to tell my friend, was there is no handbook. Just like there was no user-guide when we first got onto the early Internet. However that Internet was a place we went to, consciously logging in to it, or “dialing up” to it. Today, that place isn’t somewhere we visit – it visits us. Students who grow up with it have to navigate it on their own. It’s like giving them the keys to the car, before they go to driving school, expecting things to be alright on the road.

But of course there is one user-guide. It’s unpublished. It’s called Parenting.

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Cyber-warfare – a new definition is overdue

Used to be that cyber war was considered actions of an adversary to take down a system using the Internet. Like crippling a financial system, hacking into and holding hostage a web site, compromising power and communication grids etc. That definition  is really old now!

As authorities uncover Russian interference – specifically the work of trolls, fake social media accounts, and even advertising piped through Facebook, Twitter and Google – we should understand that cyber warfare is more subtle, and has outgrown the old definitions. It is about disrupting the behaviors, and messing with the minds of citizens. Before we show our irritation with foreign culprits, we should be unhappy with how we citizens are easily manipulated by what is online.

The glue that holds us together appears to be easily dissolved by what passes for ‘information.’ As the Philadelphia Inquirer story reveals, we are experiencing high-tech cracks and wedges to undermine us. They worked because of a critical mass of people who unthinkingly re-tweet and share posts and sponsored content. Content that few care check where the source of the post is.

Consider this sponsored ad (featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer story). It looks so silly, and poorly crafted that you’d think any person with some common sense would not even read it, let alone pass it along to others. Variations of these include chain-letters, and memes that no one knows the origin, but often accompanies a statement like “Could I hear an amen?”

For the record I never respond with an amen, for two reasons. The word is a statement of approval or concurrence reserved for prayer. It’s not the linguistic equivalent to the Like button. Also, someone’s rant does always not require public approval to make it more valid. You can still be a friend whether or not you agree with someone’s pet peeve. And for heaven’s sake (pun intended), don’t Like or re-tweet this post unless you a read it in its entirety.

Cyber war is no longer just about attacking hardware or infrastructure. It’s about unhinging us through the things that pass through the pipes that connect our hardware. It’s not about a denial of service, but about a denial of common sense.

 

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