Saturday, July 26, 2008

Net Results

Populist national news sources have been running a number of items this month about "cyberbullying," a non-news story that has nonetheless been attracting a lot of reader comments from worried parents and self-promoting experts. In USA Today, Jonathan Turley's editorial on "Bullying's day in court" contained some substantive commentary about the possible legal ramifications of the issue. But the same day, the paper ran "Cyberbullying grows bigger and meaner with photos, video," which argued that young people's access to the World Wide Web and their possession of ubiquitous computing technologies to record acts of cruelty and humiliation combined to form particularly egregious digital assemblages that perpetuate bullying for posterity.

Although I certainly advocate teaching children appropriate netiquette, along with sensitivity to rhetorical context and developmentally suitable information literacies, I worry that these campaigns foster "moral panics" that lead to unenforceable legislation and judgmental parenting that forestalls rather than fosters communication, because it is based on an assumed risk between oldsters and a radically different "digital generation." Although "cyberbullying" panics may grant young people more agency than "cyberpredator" panics, the emphasis on reactionary responses remains the same.

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