New AP/MTV Survey Shows Need for Digital Ethics Curriculum - Fortunately, it’s Here


9.28.11 | More than half of teens and young adults who participated in an Associated Press/MTV survey (pdf) said they often or sometimes see or hear people being mean to each other when they’re on social networking sites.


Only 7 percent said they never encounter meanness, while 27 pecent said they rarely do (another 10 percent said they don’t use social networking sites). Fifty-six percent said they have been the target of some type of online abuse, including taunting, harassment or bullying. That number is up from 50 in a similar survey conducted in 2009.

The usage of discriminatory language and bullying is similar to the type of name-calling and insults that is very much a part of young people’s lives offline as well as on. Respondents identified those who are overweight, and lesbian, gay or bisexual people as those who are most often discriminated against online via language or images.

They were split on whether they would ask someone to stop if they saw someone using discriminatory language or images: 51 percent said they would be very or somewhat likely to step in, and 47 percent said they would be not too likely or not at all likely.

The survey is part of MTV’s A Thin Line campaign, which aims to help young people “identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse” in their lives and amongst their peers. It was conducted Aug. 18-31 and is based on interviews of 1,355 people, including 631 teens age 14-17 and 724 adults age 18-24. (Learn more about the poll.)

Its findings highlight the need for a digital ethics curriculum—which is precisely what researchers at Harvard and USC released this month. From the press release:

Everyone is talking about the opportunities and risks of new digital media, especially for young people. Research suggests that young people often lack mentorship in their online lives, especially from adults who are savvy about the ways of the web and can offer them guidance into what it would mean to take an ethical course through their digital lives. Many young people want to do the “right thing” online, even as they are confronted with a range of dilemmas, but may need some help identifying good courses of action.

In an effort to address this gap, researchers at Harvard, MIT and USC spent three years developing a casebook of curricular materials called, “Our Space: Being a Responsible Citizen of the Digital World.” “Our Space” is a curriculum designed to encourage high school students to reflect on the ethical dimensions of their participation in new media environments such as Facebook, YouTube, online games, and blogs.

The curriculum contains role-playing activities and reflective exercises that invite youth to consider the ethical responsibilities of other people online, and whether and how they behave ethically themselves online. These are raised in relation to five core themes and units in the curriculum: identity, privacy, authorship and ownership, credibility, and participation. All curricular units and lessons are free and available for download. For more information, visit: or

“Our Space” was developed by The GoodPlay Project (led by Howard Gardner, and and housed at Project Zero, the Harvard Graduate School of Education—Katie Davis, GoodPlay project manager, is a member of A Thin Line’s advisory board), and Project New Media Literacies (led by Henry Jenkins, Project New Media Literacies was established at MIT and is now housed at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, University of Southern California). 

Researchers danah boyd and Alice Marwick last week discussed the need to develop infrastructures to support young people who recognize they are being bullied. And earlier this year, we looked at the shifting legal ramifications of online behavior, specifically as they relate to sexting. In that piece and in many others, we highlighted the call for exactly this type of curriculum. Please share the links—you can download the complete “Our Space” casebook here (pdf).

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