I suppose that it was only a matter of time before Facebook would be held accountable for enhancing the spread of one of the harshest, most relentless societal-driven illnesses today: eating disorders.

Recent research has shown that body image impressions can be transmitted, like a virus, through a social network to affect, second hand, even those without direct exposure to western media.
This research supports an emerging body of work pioneered by Dr. Nicholas Christakis at Harvard and John Fowler at the University of California, San Diego, that demonstrates that emotions such as happiness and loneliness, as well as health behaviours and conditions including obesity and smoking, can propagate among a network of related people.

Christakis’ research on the spread of obesity via social networks also offers soberly substantive evidence that we truly do not understand how the social networks we create and join really affect us.

I’m not sure why more educators are not alarmed by these findings. Could it be that we already figured it out?

Nevertheless, while most of us accept the notion that the research provides insight into what seems an insidiously intuitive influence, the bigger concern we need to start to consider may not be quite so obvious (and it’s a wee bit more complicated, too): How do we work to counteract the growing reach of social networking that fuels these types of self-destructive behaviours?

At this point, the only power that we, as educators, really have is well…education. I propose a greater commitment on the part of teachers and school administrators to integrate digital and media literacy in all strands and courses across the curriculum including, and not exclusive to, Health and Career Planning, Physical Education, and even Foods and Family Studies courses.

Communication between the elementary, middle and secondary schools is also sorely lacking. And I’m not so sure that it is wise choice for the elementary teacher to leave digital literacy training to the middle school teacher, many of whom simply don’t have the interest, time or capacity to help our students with developing these skills. And of course, when students arrive at the secondary level many of us expect (ignorantly, so) that these freshmen have the necessary digital literacy skills that we jump in headlong with often disastrous results.

Using Google to locate a Wikipedia entry does not make anyone digitally literate…by any stretch.

Here’s an idea: let’s stop assuming and start educating.

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