Tag Archives: social media

The Crisis of Public vs Private Discourse in the Social Media Age

The other day, driving home from rehearsal, I chuckled to myself at a thought that I would probably say to friends in my living room but would never post to a public forum. It involved a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall sitting next to an overly enthusiastic Christmas decorator who seems to take extra joy at installing new holiday lights at this time of year.

Does my unwillingness to write a joke here about that irony make the thought bad in itself?  I’m not JW and I like my holidays, so it’s funny to me.  I have zero JW friends, so the risk to me personally of giving offense is slight. Yet as soon as this blog post hits the Internet, my private musings become public discourse, and they carry much more weight.

* * * *

I’ve been blogging for over ten years now. Surely at some point I’ve said things I’d now disagree with. Am I held to today’s standards for what I wrote in 2005? Should I blow up everything I’ve ever written to ensure that Future Me won’t pay the price for Past Me’s immaturity or ignorance?

And if so, what’s the point of writing anything now?  What benefit does the “average person” gain from engaging in any social media or digital discourse that might outweigh any risk of being misunderstood (or rightly understood but on the wrong side of prevailing consensus)?

Though many science fiction writers predicted we’d have global communication, only Black Mirror (the British TV series) seems to grasp how horrific mass communication can be as it engages the darkest of human nature.  In the 90s, early netizens skirted around pedophiles in chat rooms across the world. In the early 2000s, AIM kept us awake late at night (“bing!”) with 17 message windows stacked across the screen. (And we were still trying to avoid predators.)

But I don’t think any of us realized what we were getting into when Facebook opened up to public membership or when Twitter invited us to encapsulate thoughts in a space smaller than a standard text message.  We live our lives publicly now, via Instagram histories of meals eaten and trips taken, alongside Facebook shares that mingle cat videos with political fights.

The Internet is a rough rodeo. Read any comment stream and examples of Cunningham’s Law quickly surface (the fastest way to the right answer on the Internet is to post the wrong information). It’s exhausting to be corrected non-stop for pedantic elements inside a larger post. But even Cunningham couldn’t have predicted the rancor and hate which accompany those corrections or disagreements. If you can’t handle someone insulting your grandmother and suggesting that you have incestuous relations with your mother on a regular basis, you probably shouldn’t post a comment in any public discussion.

What kind of world have we fostered, then, by moving the public square into cyberspace? A lonely, nasty, and dark one (if 2017 is any indication).

Our public and private spaces have bled into one confusing sphere.  What I think to myself in the car, I might choose to say to friends who share similar backgrounds and who would not be offended. But what I write – anywhere – is publicly owned in this 21st century, subject to scrutiny and the infinite memory of Google and internet trolls.  No conversation takes place within a limited audience anymore.

 *  *  *  *

As a person grows in their understanding of the world, certain forms of humor stop being funny. And other observations move from public sharing to private chuckle. Hopefully I’m more aware of why some statements are offensive rather than merely a “joke in poor taste.”Yeah, this. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t laugh at anymore. #cringe 

Reputation (or notoriety) is critical for a society where the driving currency of fame is likes, clicks, views, and ad revenue generation.  I recall a moment in a recent episode of The Orville (a Star Trek knock-off helmed by Seth MacFarlane that’s way better than I expected it to be).   Like in Star Trek, the Orville economy doesn’t require money because people have access to free material synthesis/replication for food, clothes, or supplies. The first officer comments to a junior officer that once money ceased to be an issue for people, reputation emerged as the primary currency of value.

From the imdb character page for Lt. LaMar found here: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0585874/quotes

Except that our new desire for protection also shuts down conversation when we need it most.

We all maintain an inner discourse rife with thoughts we’ve learned not to share because the risk is too high, even if as a society we usually benefit from airing thoughts, having them challenged by competing experiences, and growing in our understanding. (I had to add “usually” to that sentence because I’m not convinced, in a year when we saw real, live Nazis and bigots marching proudly in the streets, that all discourse is useful or helpful. Some public platforms degenerate discourse. But that’s a thought for another post.) 

Our swirling political discourse occupies a minefield of prejudice, racism, political correctness, philosophical disagreement, political theory, and religious tenets.  We face critical conversations about what freedom of speech and belief mean when white supremacists are insisting on a seat at the table.  So a little prudence about what thoughts escape my mouth into the air is probably justified.

I have grown to realize that my life as a white, WASPy female includes privileges of someone with advanced education and white skin alongside the consequences of my parents’ actions and my own. I’m the product of my upbringing and my experiences, but I’ve also learned – often through conversation with others or reading which force me to consider other perspectives- that my experience is not the yardstick by which reality is measured. 

The conservative Christianity that raised me pinned the label of evil onto a lot of concepts that a pluralistic society embraces: women holding positions of authority and power; freedom of personal expression and sexual expression; self-determination; non-traditional family groupings; non-Christian religions.  As I navigate what it means to be both Christian and American, those circles don’t nicely overlap.

For example, I have to face the implications of a patriarchal authority structure in the church and its negative effect on women, including rampant sexual harassment and abuse within Evangelical churches – a reckoning that’s yet to come. (Not that the Catholic church has succeeded much better. Toxic patriarchy is way worse when it’s located within enforced celibacy.)

I recognize that while my understanding of morality may guide which policies I support, not all people share that same perspective as they act out their values in the voting booth or public discourse. I’ve learned that some of my goals for others ought to be chosen by them for themselves, not enforced, in a pluralist republic like the United States. 

 *  *  *  *

These are confusing, difficult thoughts. I’ve been angry for ALL of 2017, nearly llivid by this point thanks to the legislative malpractice circus that led to the passage of a tax reform bill no Senator has even read, on top of six weeks of continual allegations and revelations of sexual abuse and harassment. I have zero chill right now about this stuff. 

But I know many of us are confused and secretly worried about what we’re going to wake up to once the dust settles in 2018.

I’m thrilled that chronic sexual harassers are finally getting it but also scared for my male friends who I know are good and kind people, who may have at some point set their hand on a woman’s knee or mentioned how nice her blouse looked. I don’t want to see them punished for an honest mistake that could instead become a teachable moment for better behavior int he future.  And I want us to develop new vocabulary to describe the range of actions humans can take toward each other. A hand on a knee might lead some men toward engaging in sexual abuse but it is not the same as rape or abuse. We need places to discuss this, to hash out the language and the consequences.

We can’t use a sledgehammer to solve every problem in public life, yet it seems that the collapse of public and private discourse leaves us little else.

My point is this: we’re all caught in a messy web of ideas and half-baked thoughts and assumptions which form the foundation of how we see the world. And right now, social media is making it worse. 

I’m not longing for us to return to some mythical good ol’ days. But it would be foolish not to recognize how much of a mess this is. There are few safe spaces to ask potentially explosive questions or to express doubt because no conversations are private anymore.

Perhaps, as with many of these problems, the solution lies in the Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. That starts with building an actual relationship with “neighbors,” whether in digital or physical proximity.  The hard work of community development lies at the heart of diffusing the social and political rancor we’re experiencing.  I do not believe we will gain ground any other way but by building relationships. 

In defense of Twitter

An acquaintance of mine has posted a good piece about his growing dislike of Twitter. Here – take a look.

I’ve grown to dislike Twitter. My recent experiment on Twitter even made me dislike me for a little while. I’d like to say it was the hack that did it to me. But it wasn’t. 

Source: Why Twitter Made Me Dislike it … and Me – Manhattan Minoan

[While you’re on his blog, hit the tab for Conversations – amazing vignettes of conversations he has with cabbies around the world. Some of my favorite reading.]

But, in response to Bob, I’d like to say a few words in defense of that little bird service that causes so much trouble:

I’m not here to defend Twitter; if it went away I wouldn’t really mourn, though there’s nothing quite like watching America watch something together on television via Twitter timeline. It has made the Oscars bearable (though I still question why I would devote 4 hours of my life to watching people congratulate themselves) and it’s unbeatable during the Super Bowl ad rush and these cringe-worthy presidential debates. In a world where we all scatter to our own screens to binge shows on Netflix, it’s nice to have the occasional joint viewing experience, now complete with brilliant snarky commentary crowdsourced via Twitter.

But for me, I use Twitter for these reasons:
1. It serves as a place where I can throw the hundred “oh that’s a good read! I should point this out to people!” articles that pass through my information flow each week. I don’t really care who is or isn’t watching; if I can take 30 seconds to hashtag the article appropriately, it remains a resource for anyone else doing a search on that topic (at least for the next few hours/days). And that, in turn, introduces me to other people on twitter who are reading and posting similar content.

2. It connects me with educators and thinkers in my fields of interest. I primarily focus on higher education, teaching and learning, creativity and design thinking, and consumer tech. Education is the focus of my life, and Twitter has connected educators like never before. Via hashtags like #edchat and #edreform and #edtech, those of us working on particular questions can stay informed, find comrades of mind, and toss out ideas for discussion. I don’t like trying to read or hold discussions on Twitter, but I’ve found several incredible education bloggers and writers thanks to Twitter hashtags in that field.

3. Conference commentary. Who ever looks at their notes once they come home from a conference? I always have good intentions, and then suffer a twang of guilt when I toss out that pretty conference booklet from Nashville in 2003. But I haven’t looked at it since, and few conference presentations are good enough to merit space on my permanent bookshelf. Excellent presenters make it onto my blogroll or bookshelf; the rest are nice encounters. So live-tweeting thoughts and quotes from a conference lets me feel a sense of camaraderie with the participants in the moment, and theoretically record valuable thoughts for “later” (which will never come, but at least I don’t feel guilty or anxious about it).

4. Real-time news. Nothing beats Twitter for news that’s so fresh, the journalists haven’t even gotten a chance to open a Word document and start typing. This is primarily valuable in moments of tragedy – the Paris bombing last fall, for example, or hurricane coverage. Or the Iran election a few years ago. But it’s unbeatable. You have to recognize that every eyewitness account is biased, but taken together this sea of voices from within an event, in real time, provides a view we’ve never had before. Ironically, it’s more nuanced than having a TV camera on the scene because it represents a plurality of viewpoints.

Twitter has deep problems. It’s difficult to find the content you’re looking for without more effort than the casual user is willing to invest, but without that investment Twitter can be a firehose of mediocrity, vacuous celebrity ego, and horrific racism and misogyny. It’s stunning how broken it can be — yet still provide a “public square” that exists nowhere else in our lives right now.

You can follow me on Twitter at @lorojoro where I mostly post links to whatever article caught my attention lately and retweet the best snarky comments that appear during the Super Bowl or Game of Thrones or whatever.

Getting Millennials to care about the democratic process

This entire piece is a great read, an examination of the growing divide between traditional media outlets (and their rapidly greying audience) and “New Media” like YouTube and Tumblr, which have the attention of Millennials. Problem is, the erosion of our primary news outlets into crazy shouting idiots has also eroded people’s faith in the democratic process. Hank Green writes a good analysis of this in his post on Mention.

A small excerpt, just to entice you 🙂

America needs to convince young people that there are good reasons to be civically involved. Millenials are soon to be the biggest hunk of the electorate and, if the mid-terms are any indication, they simply don’t care. And that shouldn’t be surprising since no one is connecting to them in the ways they connect with each other or talking about issues that matter to them from perspectives they can identify with.

Legacy media accuses young people of being apathetic while actively attempting to remove them from the discussion.

via Holy Shit, I Interviewed the President — Medium.

Educators and Social Media: A Better Policy

Social MediaYesterday I discussed some of the myths that drive adults to make terrible policy decisions, ones that ban good adults from being in exactly the spaces online where they need to be to stay in touch with kids when they’re most needed.

Today I’d like to offer a better social media policy for schools & educators, especially for middle & high schools.

An Educator’s Social Media Guidelines

1. Don’t ever say anything to a student (whether online or in person) that you wouldn’t also say to the student if his/her parents or your principal were standing right next to you.
Duh…..Do I even need to explain this one? If you couldn’t say it without negative consequences, don’t say it at all… doesn’t matter WHO you’re talking to or where.  Treat all communication online as a public event.  After all, once you’ve written it, it never goes away.

2. Recognize that teaching is relational by nature, not by choice.
I love the blog posts coming from John Spencer (Education Rethink), a school teacher in Phoenix, AZ, about teaching relationally. In case you think I’m just a crazy religious zealot, he’s saying the same thing about teaching and discipline and classroom culture from his public school classroom. You can’t really teach without acknowledging that you are now in a relationship with the students in your classroom. You have the power to harm or to build up. There is no neutral ground where you simply exist without having influence.

 

3. Live transparently and honestly.*
Everything you do as a teacher affects your students, whether on Saturday night or in your classroom. If you think you can live a double-life and hide your “real person” from your students, you’ll fail. [Especially if your students are over the age of 12. Adolescents can small hypocrisy from a mile away.]
As a personal principle, I don’t engage in activities that I would want to hide from my students, parents, boss, or friends.

4. Understand that our lives are full of overlapping circles of relationships (thanks, Google+). Recognize the differences between a student-teacher relationship and a friend-friend relationship.

It takes a few years for any individual teacher to figure out how to care for her students without turning students into surrogate friends. Having more teacher-mentors around for new teachers helps the process along. But teaching is by nature an intensely emotional and relational experience. If you don’t love those kids, you won’t teach them; you’ll just throw information at them and then complain about how badly they act out in class.

Social media is here to stay.  I don’t have to interact with my student friends on Facebook the same way I interact with my friends from college. But the government doesn’t need to ban teachers from Facebook just to make that point.  Gotta love government…. inefficient and clumsy by definition. And it’s worth noting here that teachers and students ought to be free to friend or not to friend others rather than backed into a corner either way.

 

5. Use social media as a classroom tool to model proper online behavior for students.
Kids learn by doing and by seeing others do. It’s time we adults took ownership of the online-education of kids.
Why do I use Facebook Groups as classroom websites?
Because kids are there. Because I can disseminate information rapidly to 99% of my students within an hour. Because Facebook connects me to tons of people in my own personal network who can help me craft a better lesson plan. Because sometimes kids have questions at night and I’d rather they FB message me than call me and interrupt whatever’s going on at my house. Because I can post something to FB and people find it on their own time. Because I can gently rebuke, exhort, and encourage when I see online behavior among my students that isn’t kosher (and because I have a good relationship with my students thanks to our small class sizes, I have the trust-capital in the bank [so to speak] to address those issues when I see them).

I really hope the conversation about education in this country shifts to a more honest, realistic assessment of teachers as mentors, not robots.


*Please understand, this principle of transparent living sometimes puts me in conflict with good people who disagree with me on moral, biblical, or preferential grounds.

For example, I happen to like progressive metal music, a la Between the Buried and Me.  I like it a lot. I’ve had adults tell me that my music preferences would be better off kept hidden, so they wouldn’t have to answer questions about it from their kids. Or maybe they think the music comes from the underbelly of Satan.  I dunno. But I do know that biblically, I’m on solid ground with the way I view music as a good gift in God’s creation. I’m happy to engage in thoughtful conversations with people on matters of Scripture or conscience.  But I’m not going to live a hypocritical life and pretend my iPod is full of nothing but U2 and Iron & Wine. Why? Because kids see my iPod from time to time, or they ask me what music I like, or they come play me some everyone-hanging-off-the-wall-playing-a-guitar-riff-breakdown-this-gives-me-a-headache example of “good music” in their opinion and ask me if I like it. I’m not gonna lie to them. Lying is always a bad idea.

Another good example is alcohol. I don’t drink a whole lot. Alcohol is high in calories and it’s expensive. But I like a glass of wine with my meal, and I’ll drink a beer with friends when they want. Sometimes at the end of a hard day, a Guinness hits the spot.  The drinking age in America is 21.  Teens shouldn’t drink because it’s against the law.
I don’t understand people who pretend to kids that, as adults, they don’t drink.  Why? Do you think there’s something wrong with it? Scripturally, there isn’t. The Bible command is “don’t get drunk.”  Fencing the law (“You can’t get drunk if you never drink!”) is Pharisaism of the type that Christ condemned repeatedly in the Gospels.
Are you of legal age?  Then whether you drink is a personal issue between your conscience and God.

If I sneak around and hide my actions from Facebook or anything else, I’m teaching kids that alcohol is somehow yummy and illicit, worthy of deceit and secrecy. That’s stupid, and it’s the very attitude that leads teens to get themselves drunk trying to figure out why alcohol is so exciting. The truth? It isn’t. Unless adults have led you to believe that you’re somehow really missing out on the best-kept secret in America. Hmmmm.  Hypocrisy is always a bad idea with nasty unintended consequences.

I know people will disagree with me here. Feel free to comment.
But I don’t teach 7-year-olds. I work at a high school. My students have friends who sleep around, do drugs, drink at parties, experiment, drive too fast, feel suicidal, take pills for depression or other mental illnesses, cut themselves, experience abuse, and/or have nasty relationship problems. Those situations are true whether we adults feel comfortable acknowledging them or not.

I figure it’s time for adults to stop pretending.

Missouri Facebook Fail: Social Media & Educators

The blogosphere has been abuzz a bit about the recent Missouri law banning public school teachers from having social media contact with their students. The Yahoo news article stated

In Missouri, a new bill effective on August 28 will formally ban teachers from befriending students on social networking websites like Facebook. The law is an aggressive step toward dictating the interactions educators are allowed in online social spaces — a relatively uncharted legislative territory.

Missouri Senate Bill 54 is also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, named for a Missouri student who allegedly had a sexual relationship with an abusive teacher beginning when she was 12. The case, which happened decades ago, exceeded Missouri’s statute of limitations and never came to trial.

If you think the law might go a bit far, you aren’t alone. Forbes magazine ran a column online suggesting that the new law targets the wrong “problem.”

As a teacher who finds Facebook an invaluable tool … and as a believer in relational teaching …. I think the law rests on a number of faulty assumptions about teachers, education, and social media.

Let me enumerate:

Myth #1: Teachers are dangerous, sexually-charged individuals lurking in the darkness to abuse kids. 
Let’s be honest, folks. We’re all aware of the highly-publicized cases of child abuse within schools. I think it’s horrific. I hope abusers and molesters are caught, prosecuted, and buried UNDER the jail. But to write a law that assumes all teachers are potential pedophiles is like treating all post office employees as potential psychopaths.  Most kids see their mail carrier on a daily basis, often when no other adults are around. Why aren’t those relationships prohibited on Facebook? I’m personally offended that Missouri couldn’t find a better way to screen the teachers in their public schools.

Myth #2: Students are safer online when they don’t befriend adults.
It stuns me to hear adults argue that teachers shouldn’t befriend students on Facebook.
Let me get this straight:  You would rather see a bunch of 14 year old girls rip each other apart in an online gossip fest than let them be in the presence of adults who can lend a voice of wisdom (not condemnation) to the situation?  When a teen is feeling depressed and suicidal, you hope he’ll turn to one of his high school friends for sound advice?  When a kid finds out that a friend is in danger or being abused, you want them to just solve this on their own?

Most kids know at least one teacher whom they trust and respect. When in danger, they would rather reach out to a trusted adult…. IF that adult is “around.”  Nowadays, life happens within social media: Facebook, Twitter, text messaging.   Why should Missouri (and many school districts) ban some of the best mentors from these places?

Myth #3: Social media provides more opportunities for abusers. 
I’m sure the rate of porn consumption went up when Sir What’s His Name invented the Internet 20 years ago, but that certainly didn’t change human nature. Sick, twisted people adapt to prey on the weak in *any* venue. The Internet simply takes the conversation into a new kind of back alley; I don’t believe that it creates *more* back alleys to work in.
Any teacher who wants to sleep with an underage kid needs help and criminal prosecution. It’s not like the district can reliably police all of their employees’ Facebook friend lists….which means banning teachers (and good mentoring adults in general) from befriending teens on social media  leaves no one behind except fools and predators. *shudders*

Myth #4: Education happens best when students and teachers maintain their distance.
I’m not sure who sold this  idea to the general public, but it counteracts everything I believe about humanity, community, and education.
No human is an island. Education IS discipleship, and it’s more than the mere transfer of information between a “teacher” and a receiver. (If education were merely about transferring knowledge, school districts would save millions of dollars by replacing educators with computer programs.)
Teaching is relational. Discipline is relational. No one accepts as fact anything coming from the mouth of someone they don’t trust.  The myth of the disconnected teacher and the distant non-relational classroom arose in the hyper-rational 20th century along with other stupid ideas like behavioral conditioning in education and treating kids like little computers who merely sit and process information.
Let’s put this conversation back where it belongs:  Teachers directly affect the moral, social, and intellectual (yes, even spiritual) upbringing of a student. If you can’t trust the teachers in your school to “do right” by your kids, why on earth are you sending your kids there?!

Myth #5: The social Web exists merely for entertainment, and offers little educational value.
This is the most dangerous myth, if not the most offensive. Teachers around the nation are proving again and again how powerful tools like FB and Twitter can be for engaging students, teaching online discernment, connecting kids around the world, promoting curiosity and creativity, and delivering content never available before the Internet became commonplace.
Again, I’m stunned that intelligent adults think the best way to protect kids from harm is to refuse to teach them anything about social media and to pretend it doesn’t exist and that it isn’t important. (Wait… that sounds a lot like the way we treat sex ed…. but that’s another post…..) You can ban cell phones in school, but how does that help kids learn to build healthy boundaries within texting relationships?  You can ban Facebook and Twitter between 8am and 3pm because kids “waste time,” but that doesn’t help a dull teacher engage her classroom.
You want kids to be interested and engaged in classroom content?  Hire excellent teachers and give them the tools to teach passionately.   What you ban (or don’t ban) will never substitute for a well-trained, qualified, creative educator.

I’ve got some ideas for a better social media policy for teachers & mentoring adults. Will post it tomorrow.