Can I Speak Freely?

We all have different ways of expressing ourselves. Some choose fashion, dressing in various ways that stand out. Others like to create artwork, and still, others prefer to write. Whatever the way someone chooses to express themselves, it’s great to live somewhere where personal expression is possible. There are still countries where a person is not allowed to say what they want. Now, in this 21st century, speaking your mind to express yourself in words is so easy. You write a blog, tweet, post what’s going on all through the internet. Social media is our new way of life today. Unfortunately, when some people say something, express their thoughts or feelings, they can be “canceled.” Teaching students digital citizenship is critical for this reason–to help them learn that it is okay for someone to be given the freedom to say something on social media without the fear of backlash or to attempt to be muted. ISTE standard 4.7.b states, “Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology”(ISTE). I did not initially plan on speaking about standard 4.7.b, but I realized the need.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a documentary titled “Fifteen Minutes of Shame,” produced by Monica Lewinsky, who is not a stranger to public shaming. In the documentary, they shared several stories of people affected by an online post about that person. One woman posted one sentence with her thoughts about Trump and lost her high-paying job at a hospital. Another was about a man (I remember reading about this in the news) who was “hoarding” almost 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer during the pandemic. I won’t go into all the different stories and their results. The central theme of the documentary was being publicly shamed for something. For the individuals in the documentary, the results were not good–affecting several mentally because of the fear of violence. It was scary to see this because I realized how easy it is nowadays to take a photo and post it, or type out a tweet and hit “send,” not expecting anything from it but a chance to voice your thoughts or opinions. True, nothing may come from it, or a lot may come from it–positive or negative. It’s just that the negative can be extreme.

I want to make sure my students realize that, though they may disagree with what someone posts online, they should be respectful, maybe even supportive of the individual. Mike Ribble wrote an article for ISTE titled, “Digital Citizenship is Important Now More Than Ever,” and he writes, “A lot has changed since Digital Citizenship in Schools was first published. But one thing has remained constant: the importance of teaching students how to respect and protect themselves and others online” (par. 1). Ribble’s article was written about a year ago, and digital citizenship has been around since the early 90s. I had just graduated high school when it was taking off. A lot has changed since then, especially how we interact online. Ribble discusses nine elements he believes are most important in teaching digital citizenship, and he has categorized them into three sections: Respect, Educate, and Protect, or REP (par. 3). Under Respect, Ribble places the word etiquette saying, “Students need to understand how their technology use affects others. Remind them that there is a person on the other end of their text, tweet, comment or post” (par. 4). It is so easy to read something and feel the need to reply quickly. I want leaders, teachers, and students to take a moment before reacting before their actions cause even more problems.

  The backlash one may receive because of something they post makes me think that ISTE 4.7.d is taking more precedence. This standard says that students should “curate the digital profile they intend to reflect” (ISTE). They further gloss that by saying, “Ability to represent oneself online based on activities and connections of tagging through social media posts, photos, public online comments or reviews” (ISTE). I am so thankful they chose to add that as further explanation. It is good to ask yourself, “What do I want people to think about me after reading this comment or seeing this photo?” has excellent lessons to help with teaching some of these digital citizenship standards. “Teaching Digital Citizenship with Dilemmas and Thinking Routines” offers real-life scenarios with questions to help students work through how to handle different “digital dilemmas” they may come across at some point. Facilitators can go in and choose from all kinds of scenarios, copy and paste them into the handouts, then use them in a lesson. There are quite a few of them, so that it could be great for weekly character education classes or a computer science course. Whatever resource teachers choose to use, though, I have to agree with Mike Ribble’s article title. Digital Citizenship is not just essential now, but vital now, more than ever! 


15 minutes of shame | official trailer | HBO Max – YouTube. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2021, from

ISTE standards: Coaches. ISTE. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2021, from

Ribble, M. (2020, January 28). Digital citizenship is more important than ever. ISTE. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from

Teach digital citizenship with dilemmas and thinking routines. Common Sense Education. (2021, April 23). Retrieved November 8, 2021, from

5 thoughts on “Can I Speak Freely?

  1. LES FOLTOS says:

    Thanks for sharing some ideas and resources on this critical subject.There was a time when people would say things online that they may not have been willing to say face to face. That time is long gone. Argueably things have gotten worse. It would be fascinating to know what you believe is the most important step we as educators can take to help our students become good digitial citiziens.

  2. Yanira Gale says:

    I sincerely appreciate your suggestion to make sure “students realize that, though they may disagree with what someone posts online, they should be respectful, maybe even supportive of the individual.”

    1. Jeff B says:

      Thanks Yanira! Yes, it’s really important that we teach students how to best handle responding respectfully to people they disagree with.

  3. Nick R says:

    I love the common sense media source! Those digital citizenship lessons are so accessible and engaging with students in my experience. I really appreciate the graphic that you share in this post and could be a wonderful digital poster to put on an online classroom space. The connection you made between digital citizenship and the documentary you watched was also very interesting and a real life applicable example. Thank you for sharing, Jeff!

    1. Jeff B says:

      Thanks Nick! I appreciate you sharing the common sense resource with me!


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