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How something funny turns into discrimination and cyberbullying

3
Aileen
I recently found a YouTube clip on my facebook through a friend having liked the clip she had received from a friend, I was intrigued so I watched it.
It was of a flight attendant reading out the safety instructions. The person who had filmed it was sat far back in the plane so one could only hear and not actually see the flight attendant who was speaking, but his voice was from a region with a very distinct dialect. The person filming was laughing and one could hear he was not the only one on the plane doing that...laughing at this mans dialect, at his voice.
I was so upset by it but I felt I needed to see the comments to the clip thinking this would restore my faith in humanity. People had tagged friends, commented on the dialect, put laughing emojis and linked it to other people writing things like "this will make you laugh so hard". And suddenly I was more disgusted than upset. I however made the decision not to write anything in the comments. Instead I saved the link and later showed it to a class of 14 year-olds. Before showing them the clip I said "I found this on my facebook and just want you to see it too".
They giggled and some laughed out loud during the clip. When it was over I asked them how many would consider sharing this clip with their friends on social media - most would. So I asked them "what did we just experience?" They were a bit confused, so I added "why was this funny?" And many said the accent sounded funny. So I asked "do you think anyone may find your dialects funny?" Most said no and one said "we talk normal". A girl said that someone might find "the way we pronounce some words is different". So I asked them how they would feel if people would so openly giggle and laugh at their dialect. Most said that it would make them feel bad. Then a girl said "ashamed, even if I know my accent is nothing to be embarrassed about" many agreed with her.
I went on to explain to them that I am not immune to how the dialect sounds in this clip, nor can I say that I can't understand the comical aspect of it. However I explained that I cannot find this funny because behind that voice is a person, a human with feelings, just like you and me. A person who is doing his job. A person who surely have had people giggle and laugh many times before whilst he performs his job. A person who, unknown to him, was being recorder and whose voice can now be heard in this clip uploaded to YouTube.
The class was very silent at this point.
"You may have done something similar or you may not" I said "The bad taste and lack of compassion this person has shown in filming this, apart from so openly laughing at someone, is to share something like this on YouTube so that everyone can see it."
The class was I-can-hear-a-pin-drop quite.
"If you ever find something funny when you know you should not - because sometimes the fact that something is inappropriate makes it funny - I want you to at least have the discretion to not ridicule another person publicly. If you want to share it with a friend, do it privately by telling them about your funny experience. Never ever treat another person like this man has chosen to do".
They said that they would never. And then I added that I had not written anything condemning the clip or the people who felt the need to comment on how funny it was. "Do you think I should?"
A flat out "yes!" from the class.
"Why?" Asked I.
"Because they should know that what they are doing is wrong!" said a boy. "So they won't do it again" said another.
"But most of you laughed and said you would share this on social media a moment ago. What has changed?" asked I.
"I don't think we were considering how he might feel, just that it was a funny clip" said another boy and they all agreed. I smiled and said "I know you all, and I know that you are all decent and kind but can you think of why I decided to show you this clip?"
"So that we can talk about it" said a girl.
"Yes, but what exactly are we talking about?" I smiled.
Discrimination and bullying were the answers I got after a while, so I asked if they could think of another thing. They could not. So I explained how easily anyone, without knowing it, might harm another just because they forget to think about how the person on the other end may feel. How important it is to not just go with ones first impulse on social media but to actually take the time to think - will/can this harm another person? If the answer is yes, I said, "I hope you will make a better choice then the people on this comment thread. I can't imagine that any of them genuinely want to discriminate or bully another person yet they have forgotten to think of him. And not only him but the entire region he is from, his home where everyone has that same dialect, his parents, siblings and maybe he is a dad and have children. I am sure he can't imagine anyone would think that the way his children speak is something to make fun of?"
We talked a long time about how something that seems innocent can turn out to be really hurtful to someone else and how everyone needs to, and should, mind what they write on social media. How this can be seen as indirect bullying but bullying non the less. Different ways to bully and be bullied and they talked a long time about if one or another was worse. They agreed that even if one way of bullying might be worse, no kind of bullying should actually occur so in the end how one bullies is irrelevant because everyone has a responsibility to not harm anyone. They also came up with a reply to put on the thread together - this was why I had not written anything in the first place. First they wanted to tell them off for being stupid to which I explained that replying like that really isn't much better then the comments we were replying too. So they took their time and considered all manner of words and sentences. (Again, giving them the time to understand that what one writes in social media is important and should never be done on a whim and that even good intentions can hurt.) In the end they wanted the people on the thread to understand what they had done was bad without telling them flat out that they had behaved wrong and so they agreed on:
"I like to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to show my pupils how easily it is to forget the person on the other side on social media and by this, your comments, unintentionally bullied another human being. My class learned a valuable lesson on how they should behave and think when posting things on social media."

May I add that I was very proud of them too, for the discussion we had (sure we wasted something over a good hour that ought to have been spent on language) and I know it may not always stay with them, however, I do doubt they will forget this anytime soon!


Stay amazing,
~Aileen
1
heidilynnrussell
This post ... is awesome. I can only hope and pray that my son will encounter teachers like you in his teenage years.
Stay amazing, Aileen!!!
1
David85
I bet if you asked the flight attendant about what you have done he would say that using the internet to teach kids about online bullying is the best thing to come out of this. I certainly think so anyway.
0
Cyberninja
That was an hour very well spent. What a great way for youngsters to learn about emotions/bullying and the internet.
I have seen various educational articles calling for this type of 'cyber education' for kids and you have shown how easy it is to do, how absolutely relevant the issue is and how emotional learning is something kids respond to positively. Life skills. Priceless!!!!!
1
Jazz
This is a great post and a very important lesson for children to be learning. People just don't stop and think about how the power of the internet can affect someone when they are put in the spotlight. How many times have you heard kids say "it was only a joke', when someone gets upset at being laughed at or ridiculed in real life. The same is happening online but without being able to see where the line between joke and ridicule/bullying is, or if the person is upset, which makes it worse. What you did made them empathise in a way that has made them all think hard about what actions they take online and introduced them to the concepts of responsibility and accountability.
I think schools should be doing what you are with all kids as part of emotional learning and internet awareness, or digital citizenship. Call it what you like, its essential our kids grow up using the internet responsibly. Well done Aileen, amazing work!!!