Originally posted on Medium

What does it mean to tell the truth?

As our team started to think about what is digital citizenship and what our values are, we found there were a lot of similarities among cultures and religions — as if there are some universal truths that exist regardless of time period or continent. It is this core value of Truth we want to highlight first.

What is the truth?

The internet has kicked open the doors on knowledge and information sharing. We can easily find how-to’s on baking, fixing a car, and even scholarly journals for our university thesis. But it also allows anyone to post (almost) anything, whether it’s true or not. I can create my own website, build myself an autobiography, and fill it whatever information I want — I can leave information out about my childhood, I can embellish certain events, I can make entire stories up. With so much content in our faces every day, we often forget this is the wild west of information and accept things at face value.

Why don’t we take the time to question information?

While many adults, and even parents, have never known a life without internet, it is actually fairly new (it was opened for general use in the early 90’s). And especially as a source of news. While so many of us now get all our news and information online, when we were growing up it was limited to a few news channels on television and our daily newspaper. We forget the information that comes to us in newspapers and other legitimate journals is researched and fact checked. Because of how information was given to us in the past, we expect the information presented to us online has also been verified.

Doesn’t instant information keep us better informed?

Yes, and no. Our children are growing up in a world where information is a few clicks away. It’s become the norm, and we want information right away. This desire for instant gratification of information leads sites to skip detailed research and we’re given false information or half truths. They don’t take the time to do research, because if they did, they’d miss the trending wave, or they’d find the truth doesn’t support their agenda.

Even if an article contains facts and well researched information, we’re all guilty, at some point, of only reading the headlines — often created to be deliberately misleading or click-bait — and assume we understand the whole article or topic being discussed. We engage in conversations without knowing all the facts.

Why is fake news so dangerous?

Last year, the term fake news started to trend and creates an even greater challenge. Often the ones who are shouting the loudest that something is “fake news” are the ones presenting false information. The problem is that they also don’t backup their claim of something being fake with supported facts to verify their stance. They are simply yelling to get attention. It’s getting to the point where this #fakenews is becoming mainstream and the norm. It’s no longer important whether information is true or not. It is this apathetic view that causes the most damage.

If the truth is so important, why do we continue to hide who we are?

We lie on social media all the time — often only showing half-truths. It’s in the pictures and videos we share. Instagram is the perfect example of this because before you post your picture or video you have a number of filters and editing options to select from — to allow you to present the best version of your image.
The idea of photoshopping is no longer limited to magazine ads and models. It bleeds into everyday life harming our perception of reality. It becomes impossible to distinguish between what is real and what is edited. Children wonder why they don’t look like the photos they see on Instagram. The “truth” that is displayed to them of people’s lives isn’t the truth they’re currently experiencing.

Aren’t vloggers sharing their truths?

YouTube celebrities provide people a glimpse into their lives. But that’s just it, it’s only a glimpse. They are only showing what they want others to see. They’re only filming in the corner of the house that looks good. They’re only filming them eating amazing food or going to amazing places. The things we see in their videos are not the day-to-day lives.

In many instances this YouTube lifestyle causes people to burn out, because it takes considerable effort to keep up the pretense of perfection, instead of simply living and showing the truth. As the audience however we’re partially responsible for this culture. We want to see the exciting lives of other people, because it gives us something to aspire to, we don’t want to see the everyday stuff. There’s backlash instead of acceptance when a YouTuber shows something less polished, less staged, or makes a commentary on this fake culture.

Why does it matter if our social media shows edited content?

All of this creates a very confusing environment for our children to be suddenly thrown into. When they’re told to tell the truth it can be confusing to understand that not everyone else will. They don’t understand that the pictures on Instagram are heavily photoshopped, or that it took the person 3 hours to set up and shoot that one photo. They don’t understand why they should question everything, or even how to. Part of navigating and defining what it means to be a digital citizen is understanding why the truth is important.

As parents we constantly encourage our children to tell the truth. We teach them that lies are harmful and often dangerous. There are consequences when children lie at home and in school. However, the anonymity of the internet often removes any accountability. They are not face-to-face with the other person, so they don’t see the consequences of their actions. In a reward/consequence-based culture, even if there is no seen consequence, there is also no reward for telling the truth.

What should you do?

Take a look at your social media presence. If you’re not encouraged to post the truth, if the people you follow don’t post the truth, remove yourself from it. Delete yourself from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, YouTube.

You are in control of your digital currency.

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