What it Means to be a Tumblr

When I was a freshman in high school, I managed to snag myself a job as the editor in chief of the entire student body’s most important periodical publication: the High School Gazette. I had huge plans for the publication and intended to expand our circulation from about 50 to 50,000. I wanted to go nationwide but the teachers told me that if my first few issues went well, we could look at how we can improve the quality of the print. I was given the job because of my enthusiasm, my passion for investigative journalism, my ambition and because nobody else wanted to do it.

I started off with the noblest of intentions and collected stories from every corner of the school. I interviewed the football coach and the team captain and reported on the teams results. Those first few days as a journalist were some of my finest and my review of Macbeth as performed by our theater team was worthy of a Pulitzer. Our advice column talked about subjects that mattered to us youngsters. We were sure to get syndicated at any time.

My glory days of being editor in chief would soon prove to be something of the past as I caved to peer pressure and started publishing articles that got attention for the wrong reasons. No one knew who I was or patted me on the back when I wrote about the normal stuff. No one cared if the latest paper just came off the press or not. I needed to spice it up.

I decided to dedicate a column to anonymous submissions that readers could leave in boxes placed in each of the Grammar teachers’ classrooms. You couldn’t submit actual names, but you could use initials, and hurtful messages would not be published as per the Editor. On Thursdays the Gazette flew off the rack so everyone could see if “LE liked BB” or check to see if their one-liners and inside jokes made it past the censor. The once noble and upright beacon of journalistic light was diminished to a gossip rag. The columnist who prepared that column every week convinced me to try and print some things that I knew would cause abrasion. It earned me an unwanted reputation as a troublemaker and I decided not to join that club the next year.

Quality Control – Tumblr

Tumblr is an online social media site which is similar to Facebook, but users are usually more crude and infantile when it comes to what entertains them. Quality control in the story above is what comes to mind when I think about Tumblr. With smartphones and tablets, school newspapers can go back to being academic and the gossip can go on back and forth in cyberspace. Personal hand held computers with wireless Internet access give each smartphone or tablet user the ability to be the editor of their own Gazette. Instead of a fortnightly newspaper that featured questionable sentence structure and unchecked facts and football scores, the kids have access to sites like Tumblr where they can create their own blogs and have their friends read what they have created.

This might be a great tool for collaboration if it was used in the appropriate way but the Internet is not a structured environment with teachers providing oversight. Although Tumblr expressly does not allow users to post nudity, users still find ways to do so and about 30% of the content accessed on Tumblr is in fact sexually graphic. Being that children with smartphones already have unbridled access to the Internet, Tumblr is yet another application that is being used to share and access adult material.

There is more to it

One of the more distressing stories I read regarding Tumblr was that the content isn’t strictly monitored by Tumblr employees, so unless it is flagged as being inappropriate by a user, content will get shared among the users of the site and this can be extremely harmful. One mother found her daughter reading pages on the site which had been degrading her daughter and encouraging the girl to hurt herself. The Internet is every R rated movie and MA rated album, periodical or video game and more. It is very easy to dismiss these pages and say that your child will know better than to pay attention to negative experiences online but kids are tuned into this thing called the Internet. Cyberspace is an important part of their world.

What can we do?

Parents need to understand exactly what it is that their children are doing on the Internet and with their smartphones and tablets. There should be no secrets, no content that parents wouldn’t approve of, etc. Parents give children the privilege of mobile wireless technology but along with that comes a burden of responsibility to both the parent and the child to make sure that these devices are being used safely. Parents should know how to use the same apps their children use and have a working knowledge of who they are talking to and what kinds of things they are discussing. Parents don’t need to find the things interesting, they just need to see that everything is fine.

A good online reputation is important in the professional world, and getting a poor online reputation can be very easy to obtain and not so easy to erase entirely. Anything shared online or wirelessly is sent forever and can be copied and shared and broadcast for the whole world to see over and over. It’s not the parents’ fault, it’s just the rules that are associated with using the Internet. Don’t share something you wouldn’t show your parents. It’s a big world out there and wireless Internet has made it easy to be instantly connected with the whole lot of it. Keeping teens safe online and establishing positive online reputations is a task for the entire family and takes work to understand.

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