Social media can feed some nasty behavior, Diana Cutaia says, because it can be anonymous.
Recipients of online attacks not only don't get the feedback of agony in someone's eyes after an in-person snipe, but they also receive validation for their trolling in the form of "likes" and comments, says Cutaia, president of Coaching Peace Consulting. Coaching Peace offers empathy workshops for companies and groups such as the Lake Oswego School District.
Cutaia says children learn from being validated for being unkind.
"It reinforces the behavior," she says.
There have been three well-publicized, racially loaded incidents at Lake Oswego High School this year, but every time an incident occurred — whether online or in real life — LOHS staff and students have responded. And now, in the wake of recent discriminatory graffiti defacing the walls of boys' restrooms, momentum is swelling for good deeds in response to bad ones. Students held a walkout last week, and LOHS students are speaking out again against the trend of being mean on social media — and they're doing it in the belly of the beast: online, where comments tear people apart, often with little to no consequences.
To deter such actions with a dose of responsibility, students are asking their peers to "Pledge to Be Kind Online."
This fall, LOHS Assistant Principal Ryan Rosenau reached out to senior Ellie Moreland, the Associated Student Body unity director, and asked her to try to teach others to behave better online. Moreland, with the help of other ASB students, got the project rolling within weeks. The website went up last month, and now she's doing outreach through posters and The Review.
"I couldn't be more proud of the ASB and Ellie for taking this on and really making a difference," Rosenau says.
The idea isn't just for LOHS students. It's going viral in Lake Oswego, and Moreland says anyone can go online and take the pledge themselves at lopledge.com. Doing that, she says, adds "a level of personal accountability."
In a way, it removes that anonymity that Cutaia mentioned. And so far, 149 people have stepped up.
But what does it mean to Be Kind Online?
"Being kind online, it's not only saying nice things but it's thinking about what are you 'liking,' what are you 'retweeting,' what are you are 'sharing' with other people," she says — it means remembering to be inclusive with what you are posting, that the words you use are "kind to everyone and not just your friend group, not just your community group. It's everyone."
The LOSD has gotten a ton of press about online and overall discrimination, in part for a comment about violence against African-Americans that appeared on a Facebook page run by LOHS students and stayed up for weeks. Principal Rollin Dickinson saw that the post was removed and determined the student who perpetrated the act did not attend school at LOHS.
Since then, LOHS has been holding Laker Seminars to discuss topics such as racism and acceptance. An anti-Semitic poster was put up in the cafeteria — and the person who did that was caught and dealt with, Dickinson told The Review.
Graffiti containing slurs against African-American stirred up the issue again recently, but students responded with a sanctioned walkout thatfeatured two student speakers denouncing racism and discrimination.
Moreland's position, newly created for ASB this year, is ideal for taking on these types of issues and is one more effort LOHS is putting forth to promote a positive, accepting culture.
"One of our school goals is to have an inclusive school environment, and it is so great to see the students take a lead and … make that goal a reality," Rosenau says.
Learn more about Be Kind Online at www.lopledge.com.