Next week is Digital Citizenship Week. Teaching kids how to stay safe and share smart online is an ongoing conversation. One of the best ways to initiate the digital talk is sharing a real story. It is always easier to talk about someone else and a real world example gives credibility to your talk.
The story of Caitlin Seida is great one to kickoff Digital Citizenship Week. Caitlin Seida wrote an excellent piece for Salon about when her embarrassing photo went viral. She shares how she encountered tremendous online cruelty and how she ultimately reclaimed her photo. Her story touches on many important online lessons about controlling your digital image and the reality of posting cruel comments online.
One Halloween, Caitlin Seida dressed up as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Caitlin, like most of us, didn’t have Angelina Jolie’s figure. She enjoyed dressing up and decided to shared a photo with her friends on Facebook. Nothing happened until several years later when the photo suddenly went viral.
A website, designed to encourage people to mock photos, found her picture and posted it. From there, it spiraled with other websites reposting the photo. Caitlin, alerted by a friend, investigated how this site got her photo. She discovered that she had accidentally posted it as “Public” not “Friends Only”. At first, she approached it with good humor. She grew up with the internet and knew about trolls but as the mean, cruel comments piled on she began to crumble.
“We all know the awful humiliation of a person laughing at you. But that feeling increases tenfold when it seems like everyone is laughing at you. Scrolling through the comments, the world imploded — and took my heart with it.”
Instead of drowning in these cruel comments, Caitlin tackled it head on. She sent take down notices to the websites that had posted it. She also responded directly to the online comments. Since many people had commented using their Facebook login, she could see their profile photo and real name. Caitlin began messaging them via Facebook. Unfortunately, not one of them apologized. So, Caitlin decided to take back her image by telling her own story.
Even after all this, Caitlin said in a KIRO interview she doesn’t believe people are meaner online just more thoughtless. Online communication happens so quickly it is easy to forget there is a real person in these photos and posts. She hopes her story will inspire kids to stand up and never stop believing they are awesome.
To hear her full story, check out My embarrassing picture went viral – When strangers mocked me for my weight, it was a lesson in Internet cruelty, mean girls — and fighting back in Salon or listen to her interview with Andrew Walsh on KIRO. For Digital Citizenship Week, play her interview in the car or read her story at the table and use it to kick-start a conversation about checking privacy settings, sharing with a small audience and most importantly extending kindness online.