As part of our role as content creators, it is important to recognize the role each of us plays in combatting misinformation,
discrimination and other damaging content online and in print media. As part of StarkLight Press’s continuing commitment to providing the best in media and media delivery, our staff has been attending the Digital Citizens’ Conference, created by Heritage Canada. These conferences, held every week in March, have been a trove of useful information, experiences and commentary on the vibrant – and often challenging – world of digital interaction and space.
Subject matter and contributors have varied, including the poignant world of online racial profiling and discrimination, the wrenching tales of rural people reaching out through the internet to express their gender identity despite crippling discrimination or restriction in their daily lives, and truly frightening examples of online bullying.
This week’s seminar featured government, educational and institutional responses to combating the misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and innovative ways teachers, science centers, research scientists and government agencies have adapted to virtual collaboration, content delivery and outreach.
Throughout the seminars to date, one overall tone sustains itself. The way we use these new methods of interaction is more fundamental than learning a video conference platform, or reporting an offensive or incorrect tweet. The means by which we perform each interaction, the earnestness and heartfelt honesty with which we speak (or type), we listen and we comment is what creates a successful piece of content. Proceeding with each digital interaction with forethought, consideration and critical thinking – not just about the content, but about how we use the means of transmission of the content – is integral to creating safe, effective digital spaces where we can share meaningful and useful digital information and interaction.
Taking the time to step back from the keys or the touch screen and evaluate what we see, how we respond, what method we use to do so, and how we feel about what we have seen, heard or with whom we have interacted, makes the difference between life and death in some cases, and between a healthy, or a rotten, digital environment.
As members of the writing and content creation community, we are uniquely well-placed to be able to use our skills as content creators to assess, evaluate and guide other users into more evaluative, effective and thoughtful digital interactions. We can use our pens (or our keyboards) to create not only fiction or essays which describe experiences, thus developing a more detailed understanding of the world around our reading audience – we can create and guide non-inflammatory, welcoming discussions of experience which lead to community understanding and digital harmony.
We will see if the remaining conferences ring out with this same tone, that the way we use our new-found digital platforms, not just in broad strokes, but with every comment we make, each emoji we send, affects our overall outlook on the digital world, and increasingly, in our greater experience. Whether or not other tones or themes arise in the coming weeks, it is essential for each of us to use rational discernment, patience and a spirit of optimistic inquiry with each digital interaction.
It leads us to wonder – are some of these digital interactions which may seem unfounded in their unfairness or inaccuracy actually set as object lessons, rhetorically, emotionally or spiritually, in our paths, to encourage self-reflection? After all, while we are examining our digital interactions, our motivations and our style and means of communication, should we not take that acumen and turn it also on our world outside the screen?
Let us not forget as well, that as we forebear in the digital plane, so to should we forebear in the physical world as well, for what may seem unacceptable or unfair on a screen would most certainly be viewed with a greater harshness in real life. An individual may find a digital interaction caustic or off-side, but not notice how very much they pursue those very actions in real life, to peoples’ faces, or behind their backs… and they may wag a finger or condemn online what they themselves enact each day in their shops, on their high streets, or in their pubs or cafes. They may see the digital slight clearly when enacted on another, even as they indulge in that same behaviour habitually in person. And while a digital slight can be adjusted, amended or edited, the gossip we say, the derogatory negativity we hear and refuse to take action to end, that perpetuates in our communities without a means of erasure.
Perhaps the digital lens is just that – a lens whereby we see things and can interpret their consequences with a distillate of clarity which each of us needs to apply not just to others’ actions, but to themselves. While there may be no glass houses in cyberspace, perhaps the lens of the digital allows us to see actions which are unacceptable with clarity… and we must wonder from what dark wellspring of abuse or discrimination those actions spring. Are those wellsprings merely online, or have they been nourished or indeed created by a long series of abusive, thoughtless, partial and misinformed actions in real life?
We must remember before reacting digitally, or online, to always ask the uncomfortable question: why has this person reacted in comment or word in this way? Is there more to this content which offends or apparently misleads than meets the eye? Is that ‘more’ something to which I may have contributed through action, indulgence of others’ actions or words, or failure to assert a moral truth or palpable fact in the face of peer pressure, habit or engrained prejudice?
If The answer to the last two queries is yes, then remember to proceed with the rational consideration, clarity of thought or speech and earnest, heartfelt openness which forms the tone of the first two Digital Citizens Conferences… in cyberspace, and in real life.
An object lesson delivered digitally may let someone notice the problem, but it is up to each of us to trace that problem of a digital unpleasantness back to its source, and wonder if, perhaps, the issue has not started in cyberspace, but in our own backyards… or perhaps come from our own physical mouths, or been entertained rather than rebuked by our own hearing.
There is nothing more tragic than someone who would rebuke an action, be it online or in real life, which they consistently do or abide themselves.
As we move into the digital world and practice forebearance and our authorly skills of communication, rationality and rhetorical exposition, let us therefore remember that these skills, once practiced behind a screen, must also be put to use in our life in business, in social gatherings, and in personal life… or our efforts in the digital world to improve integrity of conduct and message will end with the tragedy that real life shortcomings shall continue to echo into the digital world, despite any best intentions.
Publisher and CEO,