(Student) Blogging and the Fact of Other People

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[This is a guest post by Rebecca J. Hogue (@rjhogue), a multi-affiliated (aka adjunct/contingent) online lecturer (University of Massachusetts-Boston, Brock University) and avid blogger. She teaches Digital Citizenship and Instructional Design online. In addition, she works as a consultant helping to develop and produce self-published eBooks. Her research and innovation interests are in the areas of online collaboration, social media, and ePatient blogging.--JBJ]

With the push away from the LMS and encouragement of students to start taking ownership of their piece of the Internet (e.g. A Domain of One’s Own), and encouragement to start blogging, I feel the need for a little more discussion around digital citizenship and responsible self-publishing. I’m not talking about the obvious “be nice and don’t harass people” responsibilities, but rather the more subtle ones that are not necessarily talked about before asking students to jump into the realm of public blogging. As a digitial literacies educator, I believe it is important to teach students not only the practicalities of blogging but also the responsibilities that go along with self-publication.

We often talk to students about ways in which to control their personal privacy. We talk about the repercussions of the over-sharing. We give them tips on how to best control their image within public spaces. We help them form the identity they want to form. However, what we often miss is the discussion about how we talk about others with our blogs, and how what we say may have a direct impact on someone else’s life.

I am a blogger. I have been a blogger since my husband and I took 16-months off and rode our bikes around the world. We blogged almost every day of our journey on our Going East travel blog. It was during this time that I first learned about the responsibility we take when we self-publish.

On our journey, we visited several countries where democracy was not the form of government. Freedom of speech was not something that was not a freedom that the people in the country had. We learned of our responsibility from the keeper of a hostel. He had informed us that our friends, fellow bloggers who we had followed online but never met in person, had blogged about him. What our friends said on their blog caused the police to arrest him and torture him for four days. For our friends, it was an innocent mistake. They had no idea that their travel blog would be read by the state policy for the country they were visiting. They had no idea that it would impact the keeper of the hostel. We waited until we were well out of the country before we contacted our friends to inform them of what had happened. They were devastated. They had no idea that blogging about someone else could have such a negative impact.

I tell this story when I teach my students about digital identity. I talk about the importance of harvesting your own digital identity, otherwise someone else will create one for you. But at the same time, I also provide a word of caution. When self-publishing, you have a platform in which you may be heard by people that you don’t realize. When you write about other people, what you say has the potential to cause harm. You need to think about it.

I explore this idea further with my blog about my journey through diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from breast cancer. The blog tells my story in a lot of detail. Before writing, I had to explain to my family that I was going to talk about both the ups and downs of experiencing breast cancer. My blog was not only going to talk about the laughable moments, it was also going to talk about how I was dealing with my own mortality, what I wanted done with my ashes after I died, and how I was also suffering from depression. In order for my blog to be a true testimony to my lived experience as someone going through breast cancer, it needed to talk about both the good and the bad, regardless of how it would make my family feel. I could not protect their feelings and still report on the true lived experience of breast cancer.

On my breast cancer blog I talk about my doctors by their occupation rather than their names. I talk of my breast surgeon, oncologist, and plastic surgeon. I do not use their actual names. The blog is about me and my story, it is not about their stories. Using their names could have an unintended consequence. There is no need to identify them directly, and so I avoid the risk of unintended consequences by not using their names.

People that you interact with in the physical world have no expectation of appearing on your blog. The exception to this is when you explicitly ask permission – which is the approach we took when travel blogging. We did not include pictures of people who did not give us their permission. For us, this was especially important when the pictures were of children. We always asked permission before sharing pictures or names (we only share first names) on our travel blog.

When someone blogs about their ideas, however, they are expecting that they are given appropriate credit for their ideas. They are self-publishing as a way to not only share their ideas but also to claim ownership over their ideas, and as such, they should be appropriately attributed.

What advice do you give to students before you ask them to blog? How do you approach the responsibilities all bloggers have for digital citizenship?Let us know in comments!

Photo courtesy on a CC0 license.

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