Social media risk and literacy in the new Australian civics curriculum


[Extracted from my public lecture ‘Social Media – Risks and Rewards’]

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 9.21.21 AMAt the very least an important foundational literacy one must have to empower one to assess social media risk – especially the legal risks involved – is an education in civics that explains the rights and responsibilities of individuals, the legal consequences of actions, and the systems in which these operate. Australia has lacked a consistent approach to civics education but fortunately the new Australian curriculum has a Civics and Citizenship component covering these kinds of issues at an allocated 20 hours per year throughout years 3-10 (ACARA, p. 11). It even specifies a competence in ‘limiting the risks to themselves and others in a digital environment’ (p.20). It aims to encourage young people to ‘act with moral and ethical integrity’ to ‘become responsible global and local citizens’ (p.3).

Frankly, this is where I believe the best approach lies. If we are going to reap the potential of new technologies we cannot become so risk averse that we ‘lock and block’ the opportunities as we try to minimise the dangers. The Gold Coast private school that recently banned its students from using social media on its grounds continues to allow its students to engage in contact sports with far greater potential risks to their minds and bodies than any Internet platform might present. They do so because they perceive the ongoing social and educational benefits of team sports as outweighing the very real risk of physical injuries. They invest in the expert staff to coach, they qualify them with first aid training, and they teach the children the code of behavior expected on a sporting field. And I would not for a moment suggest they should not. Yet they choose to ‘lock and block’ some of the most valuable communication tools developed in the history of human invention.

I suggest the answer is not in deprivation and censorship, but in sensible social media guidelines and foreshadowed consequences for misuse, accompanied by a foundation in moral and ethics education of citizenship presented in the new Australian curriculum. The educational theory of ‘reflective practice’ coined by Donald Schön two decades ago invokes a mindful approach to learning where professionals ‘reflect-in-action’ upon their learning as they face technical and ethical decisions in their working careers. There is no reason why a properly invoked civics and citizenship curriculum should not do the same for our pupils as they engage with new media as a laboratory for the greater challenges that real life presents.

See the full lecture at:

© Mark Pearson 2013

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Filed under courts, media law, Media regulation, social media

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