The Social Media Platforms (SMPs) communicative culture seems to encourage the angriest voices to dominate and lead the conversations, shouting down and shutting down kinder, more thoughtful voices; the objective of the commentating angry mob is to silence or hurt, and not educate others. I’ve also noticed that people on SMPs pay little intellectual attention to the ‘main idea’ of the commentary being offered (if they even bothered to read it at all). There is often no attempt to provide a logical counter-argument. This act of engaging by disengaging from an analytically sound reasoning approach to responding on SMPs, seems to carry elements of bullyish behaviors.
My interaction with SMPs is a little different but is consistent with what I have taught students for decades:
(1) When I read something on SMPs for which I initially feel that I, in part or whole, disagree. (or even feel a little angry). I ask myself, could there be a lesson to learn here? As an educational leader, I found that many learning opportunities were not packaged and delivered in a format that made me feel good or happy. A necessary learning experience often took me out of my emotional comfort zone. I could feel unsettled by being forced to confront and challenge those things I cherish as being absolutely “true” –Any learning awakening (by way of art, reading, a classroom, SMPs, etc.) could be perceptually jarring, but it’s well worth the ride!
(2) My first automatic response to negative feelings about a SMP post or comment is to ensure that my hands don’t go anywhere near the keyboard! This is because I accept that there are things in this world I may not know or know incompletely. And I always (perhaps the science educator in me) want to leave open the possibility of being wrong.
(3) I strive to think open-mindedly about the point being made. I also think metacognitively about my own thinking response to what is being posted: “Why am I responding in the way I am responding?” – (and if appropriate) “What is the (internal, not external) source of my anger about this post?” I’ve learned over many years that my feelings of anger are never really about what the other person said or did.
(4) I fight the cynical financial objectives of SMP companies, who “hold the coats” of their fighting customers for ‘engagement marketing stats’ that they could sell to businesses seeking advertisement sources. Also, because I’ve written (more than most people) so many professional articles, memos, books, journals, newspapers, and magazine writings, I don’t feel the urgent need to comment on a post just because I disagree with it.
(5) I make sure to read the post carefully, including thoroughly reading an article that could be associated with the post. How many times (too many) have I read responses to a post on SMPs and found my response (not-typing, but in my mind) being: “Wait, that’s not what she said!”—Or, again not daring to type, less I get ‘canceled’: “If you bothered to read the article he was referencing, then his post would make better sense!”
(6) If I do make an SMP comment (which is rare), I fall back on my teacher, principal, and superintendent operational standards; is what I am saying: positive, informative, helpful, encouraging, educative; and the most crucial rubric: “Is this something I would feel comfortable saying to the person if they were standing in front of me?”
(7) The power of sensitivity and compassion. Or, how about just act like a decent human being! A few years ago, a gentleman posted on a SMP that the parents of R. Kelly’s child victims should have known and acted to stop the abuse. A young lady (in a non-aggressive/no name-calling way) posted in response: “As a child victim of sexual abuse by a close adult family member, I can tell you that the situation is not always that simple and straightforward.” Her words rang true for me (in part because of my professional experience). But even on a non-professional humane level, the response that was clearly needed here, was compassionate and supportive words. But some other folks did not think so; they tore into the young lady for her “naiveite” until she wisely went silent and exited the conversation.
These many hurtful and destructive SMP practices are in contradiction to several of the primary ethical responsibilities of professional educators:
-To reduce and eliminate the socially and environmentally damaging effects
–To be highly effectual in our feelings of empathy for others.
–To fight for people who can’t fight for themselves.
–To give a voice to those whose voices have been stifled or silenced.
–To educationally empower the politically disenfranchised.
–To supply recognition, aspirational hope, and opportunity to those whose
humanity has been diminished or nullified.
–To bring the “other,” the “outsider,” the “ostracized,” and the “omitted”
into the safe and protective arms of a school environment.