We shouldn’t be surprised when we discover that our communities—onsite as well as online—are less safe than we expect them to be. But we are. Because we really do want to believe the best of people even though so many of them/us prove to be less than worthy of that trust. Which is probably why “trust” and “community and collaboration” are among the important aspects of online learning currently receiving attention both in the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) communities of learning.
These two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) are creating a wonderful sense of what is possible in well-managed and well-supported communities of learning. They are also providing ample opportunities—some of them unanticipated—for us to celebrate the positive side of online interactions and to react and respond to the less savory side of the online world—rather than abandoning online interactions completely.
Posts by two of our colleagues—Alec Couros and Alan Levine—recently made us aware of what happens when others violate that trust. Couros describes how he and others had their trust violated through an unethical practice known as “catfishing”—a form of Internet fraud in which “individuals or groups create false identities to lure victims into online, romantic relationships.” There are the obvious victims: the men or women who fall for the fraudulent online postings. There are also the less obvious victims: people like Couros and Levine, who discovered that their photographs have been used as part of the fraudulent online accounts that entrap people who haven’t fully developed first-rate digital literacy skills, including what Howard Rheingold calls “crap detection.”
An experience two online learning colleagues described earlier today reminded me that regardless of how digitally literate we become, we are going to have to ready for and confront online violations within our communities—particularly when we least expect them. It serves us well to be as prepared as possible to react strongly and positively when that moment arrives. My colleagues—both well versed in online interactions via a variety of mainstream platforms including Twitter and Google+ Hangouts—had their moment today when someone posing as a member of one of their learning communities joined a Hangout they were facilitating. Before they knew what was happening, they were exposed to an obviously unwanted sight: a close-up image of the man’s genitals. They quickly shut the session down, and then engaged in a debrief of what we all might learn.
This is where our connected learning efforts provide positive options for us. While recognizing that we’re never going to be able to completely eradicate this unwelcome behavior, we also recognize that the best way to combat it is to shine light on it. Connect with others to share resources and ideas of how to most quickly push it aside so our communities remain as positive and unsoiled as they possible can be (e.g., by publicly disseminating guides like Google’s “Report Abuse in Public Video Hangouts in Google+”). And make sure that, for every individual subjected to this sort of violation, thousands of other people are vigilantly acting together to object to and push away those unwanted acts of aggression.
I hope my colleagues will follow through on their plan to document what happened to them. I hope that all of us find ways to marginalize those who want to make our communities less than they should be. And I hope that we take the time to do what I’m about to do: support our proactive colleagues by drawing more attention to their best work—like the work of Sarah Houghton, who blogs as Librarian in Black.
Sarah is a trusted and cherished colleague who tirelessly addresses issues—like face-to-face and online harassment—consistently, directly, and often with a sense of humor even when she is documenting the most distressing, disgusting situations imaginable. Many of us—after moving beyond the initial shock we felt upon reading what she was describing—stood up and cheered (privately and publicly) when she first described the levels of harassment to which she had been subjected by members of her profession; we supported her because what was done to her hurt (and continues to hurt) all of us, and we wanted to be sure that others knew that when they disrupted our community, we would do all we could to stop the disruption. When she addressed the controversy brewing around efforts to create a code of conduct for conference attendees, we were right there with her to be sure those posting anonymous obscene responses were drowned out by calls for positive action. And when Sarah recently wrote a deeply personal article about the toll violations have taken on her, we were quick to publicly and vocally outnumber the first anonymous respondent who was naïve enough to believe that abusive comments online would be allowed to stand unchallenged on our virtual community’s turf.
That’s what we do for Sarah. That’s what we do for our #ccourses colleagues. That’s what we do for our #oclmooc colleagues. And that’s what we do for ourselves. Because we care. Because we trust that connected learning and connectivist MOOCs and the care and cultivation of our online communities matters. And because we must.