The United States this week has been
transfixed by the scandal involving New York
Congressman Anthony Weiner, half a dozen women to whom he sent sexually
suggestive photos of himself, and Twitter.

There are obviously a few things Mr Weiner’s friends
never told him. The first is, never put anything into cyberspace that you
wouldn’t want your mother to see. The second is, never put anything into
cyberspace that you wouldn’t want your mother to see, and the third is like the
other two.

It’s amazing how difficult it is to get this
message across, even to smart people. But, thankfully, help is at hand. InterMedia Consulting
is developing an educational programme called Safe Social Media which will be
available free online from October.

Meanwhile one of the project’s managers,
Manuel Villalobos, points out that while “think before you post” is good start
on the road to safe social relations on the internet, the solution really goes
deeper. “The key is in the basic attitude, not just before you post but before
you act. We must learn to ask, why? Why I am posting an indiscreet picture of
myself, or a third person?”

Villalobos says much of the advice offered to
young people boils down to mere pragmatism: “Be careful! It could be seen by
strangers or old friends; it might never be possible to remove it; it could be
seen by your boss, teacher or co-workers; it could tarnish your reputation; you
might struggle to find a job with that picture floating around…

“But they do not realize the shallowness of
the argument. Inappropriate internet behaviors are a reflection of reality. The
key is not simply to think before you post, but think before you do anything at
all, before you even take that picture.”

Parents, he says, are faced with two problems in
trying to raise their children as responsible digital citizens. First, their
own lack of technical knowledge, and secondly, their ignorance of the fact that
while “alone” on the computer their children are influenced by the many people
interacting with them.

“But these two problems for parents have a
simple, though challenging, solution: simply extend the essential rules of good
behavior in ordinary life to life in the digital world.”

In the light of ordinary character education
the decision “to post or not to post” becomes a matter of bringing the virtues
into play:

Temperance
and moderation
to establish a specific time to surf
the internet. Sometimes, bad behaviour on the internet is the result of surfing
aimlessly.

Fortitude
or strength
to stick to that schedule or limit. Strength
of character is also necessary to write well – and not sloppily and
haphazardly.

Prudence
and justice
when publishing. Think about how you are
portraying the others, and if they would like to view your post. “Think before
you post” is good advice to help calm our emotions and first impressions about
events and people.

“In the end, if parents educate their children
well in daily life, it will naturally be reflected in their digital citizenship.”

Safe Social Media has been designed to assist
in this educational task, says Villalobos.

“This is a project that aims to raise
awareness, encourage, guide and jointly teach parents, teachers and students about
the responsible use of the new technologies. We want to reduce the exposure of
children and adolescents to violence in the form of cyberbullying, pornography
and sexual abuse through a right use of social media, strengthening character, and
giving parents the tools necessary to do so.

“The essential tool will be an educational programme,
free from October 2011 on the website of Safe
Social Media
for families, schools and NGO´s that are interested in this
field. We would also like to hear from people; their experience and advice can
be very useful for us.”

*You can become a
fan of Safe Social Media on Facebook
and receive updates about this project
and good manners on the internet.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet