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Online Community, Culture, and Citizenship
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Online Community, Culture, and Citizenship Activity: The Ties That Bind: How To Be A Good Online Citizen

Instructions for Your Students

Now that you're a regular online VIP, it's time to put everything that you've learned so far to use.

You know how to set up accounts, ditch unwanted intruders into your e-life, and be an active social media participant. (Yes, we know, the "active" part is redundant. Status update. Status update. Status update.)

You've also thought about the golden rule of how you wouldn't want somebody blasting you in a text or wall post, so you best not be doing that to other peeps either. Pull it all together now to think about building your own friendly online community.

Step 1: Take a couple of minutes to brainstorm with your classmates. What online communities do you participate in? Once you have a decent list on the board, think about whether or not these communities have any problems. Any trolls or issues with inappropriate (or just plain rude) comments? Let your mind contemplate that question while you move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Watch Niki Cheong's video about on being a good online citizen, and then discuss the following questions:

  1. Dustyhawk, one of Niki's followers, said that being a good online citizen means not trolling or flaming. Do you know what these terms mean?
  2. Can you think of any times that you've run into trolls or flamers? 
  3. What about the other way around: have you ever been a troll or flamed anyone? Why did you do it? Would you do anything differently today? 
  4. What does Royaltylites think about how you can disagree with someone's opinion online? 
  5. Do you agree with Niki that being a good online citizen means verifying facts before you forward information or articles to other people? Is it your responsibility to make sure sketchy information isn't passed on to others?
  6. Has a friend ever forwarded information to you (or told you to read an article or watch a video) that you later found out was false? Did it cause any problems for you? Were you annoyed?

Step 3: Your teacher is going to hand out sticky notes—one per person. When you get yours, think about what you would tweet back to Niki about being a good online citizen. Create your own tweet of 140 characters max (following the official Twitter rules), and write it on your sticky note. When you're done, share your tweet by sticking it on the classroom wall.

Once everyone is done, your teacher will read through the tweets and ask you to raise your hand if you've ever violated any of these "good online citizen" rules. For example, if a tweet says that being a good digital citizen means not forwarding chain emails, your teacher will ask if you've ever forwarded a chain email. Be honest!

The point of this activity isn't to embarrass you. It's to show you that a) you're not alone, and b) it's important to stop and think twice before acting questionably online.

Step 4: Any online community, just like a real-life community, can take a turn for the worse if people start insulting and hating on each other. There are terrible examples of people being mean and flaming on YouTube and other online communities. For example, here are some obnoxious comments copied from YouTube videos of Adele's music:

  • "She could thunder out a good fart I bet"
  • "Did anyone else see Twinkie boxes in the background?"
  • "Lose weight"

Would you want to be part of a community like this? We hope you said no, because those comments aren't Shmoop's style. And much like in real life, as with all gossip, if people are hating on someone else and being this nasty today, you know they could easily be hatin' on you and your business tomorrow.

With that in mind, let's learn about some tips for creating friendly online communities.

Read the article "Twelve Tips for Growing Positive Online Communities."

Working in a small group, select 1-2 of these tips and rewrite them in your own words. (Your teacher may assign your group 1-2 tips to work with just to make sure each group is tackling something different.)

When everyone is done, you'll share your rewritten tips with the class. 

Step 5: Now think again about the online communities you are involved in and discuss the following questions in class:

  1. Which communities show examples of some of the positive behaviors listed in the article? Be specific and give examples. 
  2. What positive behaviors are missing from the communities in which you participate? Which tips do you wish members of your online communities would take to heart? What are some strategies to make this happen?

Step 6: Let's get back into groups again, this time working with 1-3 other students (for groups of 2-4). Decide with your group which of the following design activities you will do. 

Option 1: Create your own online community. Write a description of this community, and be sure to answer all of the following questions:

  1. What is the organizing topic of the community? History? '80s music? Friendship? Homework?The Hunger Games?
  2. What is the group's name?
  3. Are there any membership limitations or qualifications (example: age limit)? 
  4. Is it a closed group or an open one? What are your privacy settings? 
  5. How will you attract (or keep out) new members? 
  6. What are your five "Rules of the Game," in other words, the "Thou Shalts" and "uh-uh, don't even think about its" of your online community? 
  7. What are the consequences for breaking the rules?

If you're old enough (oftentimes social networking sites have an age limit of 13), you can even build your groups on Facebook or another online site.

Option 2: Working with your group, generate a list of 5-10 "Rules of the Game" or "Thou Shalts" of being a good online citizen. Once you have your list, make an ad or Public Service Announcement (PSA) encouraging others to be good online citizens.  Formats could include comic strips, posters, or skits/videos.

For inspiration, check out these two fun examples of PSAs about not being a jerk online. (These are both online submissions for a Trend Micro video contest.)

Step 7: Time to present your communities or ad/PSA to the class. And hey—that stuff about being a good online citizen applies here in the non-virtual world, too. Be a good member of your classroom community while your peers are presenting, and they'll probably return the favor.