Until taking my first class with Alec, which was almost two years in ago in EC&I 832, I completely steered clear of posting anything on social media that could even remotely ruffle any feathers. I was so nervous to post on Twitter and start connecting with other educators! In the end, I’m glad I’ve come out my “social media shell”, as I’ve learned a lot from other teachers, mainly from my fantastic classmates who willingly share their resources and perspectives! My approach was very similar to what Katia discussed in her blog post titled, In Online Spaces, Silence Speaks as Loudly as Words, with her pre-service teachers. I was (and still am to a certain extent) concerned about being hireable in the future or something I potentially said in the past could come back to haunt me. As a result, I’ve been convinced that I need to remain as neutral as possible online or even non-existent. However, Alec and Katia over the years have disrupted this belief I’ve held about social media avoidance and have challenged me think about what my silence says and how my privilege has played a role in my silence. I am still very (I would even say overly) cautious about what I share online, however, this week I’ve been thinking more about how I can achieve the balance of being an advocate and using my privilege for positive change without jeopardizing my career.
Can Online Social Media and Activsm be Meaningful?: Activism and Slacktivism
For starters, I think it is important to address the difference between cyber safety and digital citizenship. According to What Kind of (Digital) Citizen, cyber safety initiatives were the root of digital citizenship. This model focuses on what not to do and often instills fear into individuals about their online activity. On the flip side of this concept is digital citizenship, which makes the shift from an avoidance-based model to a responsible-use policy. Something I appreciated about this post was that it highlights the importance of protecting oneself, but also encourages people to think about how they can help others online as well.
Students are taught to use secure passwords, to find a healthy balance between screen time and offline time, to safeguard their digital identity. And while all of these skills are important pieces of being a good digital citizen, they revolve around protecting oneself, not helping others or contributing to the wider community.Alec Couros, What Kind of (Digital) Citizen?
Alec shared some of the research by Westheimer and Kahne (2004) that highlights the various types of citizenship: personally responsible, participatory, and justice oriented. If I had to place myself somewhere within these types, I would say I fall into the personally responsible category. I would like to eventually move into a more justice oriented mindset, as I am still grappling with the idea of leveraging my social media use and privilege to enact change. I’ve come a long way in regard to my views on social media use and digital citizenship, but I’m not quite out of the personally responsible category and I would venture to say, in some ways, I might still be a little stuck in the cyber safety mindset.
So, what does this have to do with “activism” and “slacktivism”? Activism is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as, “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” Slacktivism is referred to by Dennis McCafferty as, “people who are happy to click a “like” button about a cause and may make other nominal, supportive gestures. But they’re hardly inspired with the kind of emotional fire that forces a shift in public perception.” I understand how simply showing support for a cause by clicking the “like” button is considered a “lazy” form of activism and I do believe in the expression, “Actions speak louder than ‘like’ buttons.” However, McCafferty makes an excellent point about technology having the power to generate attention or awareness for a cause, which can create opportunities to change minds and instigate action. For example, Alec mentioned what could be called “slacktivism” could lead to more activism in the future. From my own experiences, I don’t usually read the news. I tend to get my news from my social media platforms and look into topics further that strike a cord with me. That being said, a post or the sharing of an article can spark curiosity, which could lead to significant action.
I also believe that there is nothing quite like, “boots on the ground” activism or taking action in a more tangible way. I’m not saying that there isn’t value in online forms of activism such as blogging to raise awareness about a cause, sharing resources, and making connections with people, but it takes two to tango! Imagine if there was only online activism or “in real life” activism. I don’t believe awareness could be raised or significant change is possible without both ways working in tandem. Simply put, absolutely– I believe online social media and activism can be meaningful and worthwhile, but it can’t exist in isolation either. Simply clicking a “like” button or sharing information via social media falls somewhere in the personally responsible category and/or the participatory category, but I wouldn’t say it is justice oriented. Those types of actions need to be followed up by speaking out about social justice issues either in person or online.
How Can We Have Productive Conversations about Social Justice Online?
It is all too easy to get fired up about a topic and let er’ rip on Twitter. My fiancé spends a lot of time on Twitter interacting with other NFL fans and I asked him how people converse on this platform. He said the issue with Twitter is that anyone can comment and they may not be a reliable source of information. He mentioned that following niche blogs where experts are present is most likely the best way to go for productive conversation in this realm. Although I agree with him on this, social justice is a little different, as you’re most often trying to reach the masses. This might be easier said than done, but on social media I think it boils down to leaving your ego/opinions at the door and to ground your beliefs in facts from credible sources. Katherine Schulten from the New York Times outlined 10 ways to generate productive conversations in the classroom about difficult topics. Although this isn’t geared specifically to online discussions, most of the tips mentioned in this article are still relevant.
- Creating a list of rules and structures that support productive conversations, online and offline.
- Taking “The Speak Up for Civility Pledge”. Although this may be difficult in an online setting and is geared toward the American elections in 2016, I like the idea of having a contract that outlines the responsibilities of commenters… Adults and kids alike!
- Creating commenting standards. This is an interesting opinion piece on the issues associated with comment sections. It reflects what many of us said in class regarding the negative spaces, places like Facebook, have become.
- Practice empathy.
- Back up statements with evidence and (reliable) sources. There was a great point in this article about how someone can be entitled to their own opinion, but not to facts.
- Listen better. Ask questions. Seek to understand, rather than judge.
- Expand your filter bubble. Follow people on social media you don’t agree with as well.
- Consider why as humans we have the mentality of “us” and “them”.
- Learn about confirmation bias and work to see the other side of things.
There was another point in this article, but I feel like it is more relevant to my final question, so hang on! I understand, in some ways, this list is a little idealistic because it is difficult to create these rules in online spaces where it seems almost too far gone to implement them now. However, as educators, we hold the unique power to change how future generations interact online…
What Is Our Responsibility as Educators to Model Active Citizenship Online?
Although it might be difficult changing how people interact and have these conversations in online platforms, we as educators, can do our part in the classroom and impact the next generation by teaching the above skills (in online and offline environments). We are able to provide authentic learning experiences by integrating social media in the classroom and engaging in difficult conversations in person as well. One of the points mentioned in the article above is providing students with reading and discussions about social justice issues/why our country is so divisive in its views. This probably doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, but we need encourage tough conversations and engage in them with our students in a respectful way. The New York Times hosted a challenge that asked students from all over America to participate in online discussions around immigration, gun control, climate change and energy, race/gender/identity, and an open forum where students could post about issues they are passionate about. They explained they are not looking for excellent posts, but rather, but civil and productive conversations between students. Teachers followed a lesson plan and explicitly taught these skills to their students. Here are some of the results:
- Students demonstrated respectful language.
- Students made personal connections to the conversations.
- Thoughtful questions and observations were made.
- Many students cited their sources.
- Students respectfully pushed back by asking questions or for more information about each other’s claims.
- Students demonstrated open-mindedness.
- Some students’ views even changed from engaging in these discussions.
Check out the results linked above for unedited student comments and more positive results from the challenge!
Some aspects that could be improved on:
- A lot of comments were individual posts and didn’t generate much conversation.
- Some students cited unreliable sources.
- Of course, grammar and spelling.
- Asking more questions and pushing each other further on their viewpoints.
To me, this shows that teachers must model and have discussions with students about how to demonstrate online citizenship. These behaviours are not simply learned through growing up and maturing, but need to be explicitly taught and modelled. I think a large piece of these conversations need to be around media literacy and seeking resources from credible outlets and ensuring the causes we are advocating for are what we think they are by fact checking with multiple sources.
Like we discussed in class, some people aren’t necessarily in a position to have a heavy social media presence regarding issues of social justice. I may not be as vocal about issues of social justice on my social media platforms, as I feel my strength in addressing these issues lies within my classroom. Addressing these issues in person leaves less room for interpretation, as I find comments can come off in a way you didn’t intend to in online settings. On the contrary, to reach the masses and connect with people, social media provides many opportunities for online activism. Personally, I think I need to work on leveraging my privilege and my social media use in order to strike a healthy balance between online and in-person activism. This intimidates me a little since I’m not a huge social media person in general, but Katia’s blog post gave me a lot to think about! Those of you who have experience in this area…
- How have you used your social media for online activism? What are your recommendations for implementing this in a classroom environment/what are some aspects I should consider?
- How have you taught your students about having civil and productive conversations in person or online?
- If you receive backlash for a post/comment, how do you go about handling this in a respectful manner?
I would love any insight on this topic and to hear about your experiences!
Until next time,