This week we are to analyze and comment on social activism online and whether it can be meaningful, worthwhile, productive, and finally what our responsibility is as educators in teaching it and modelling it are.
At the start of the week and throughout it I realized that my position on social media has largely been one of do not rock the boat. I have on occasion participated in social activism, but it has generally been on the safe side. I have shared some news articles in the past, I have donated money to some GoFundMe.com drives, and I have been a good personally responsible citizen. Everyone is always happy to have me as a neighbour both physically and digitally, because I mind my own business and help out where I can. If you were to try to place my on the kind of citizen table that Katie Hildebrandt shared on her blog I would likely come in moving back and forth between the responsible citizen and the participatory citizen. I have on occasion organised things to help others, but I am more likely to help out with existing charities. Why have I not done more? Well to be honest because it makes me uncomfortable, it takes time, and sometimes I do not know what to say, and I feel that I am being intrusive. So how have the things that I have read helped me to see this differently or have they?
To start with there is the question of whether social media activism even works. Near the beginning of the week I came across and shared an article from Wired.com about whether or not social activism accomplishes anything. You can read the article yourself but one of the conclusions it draws is that, “It’s often the case that the people or organizations you shame “publicly” via social media will never see the criticism at all. Your social audience is generally a group of like-minded people—those who have already opted in to your filter bubble.”
So the article questions whether is it useful and I think that it somewhat missed the point, also that our filter bubbles are not as homogeneous as we think. For example my family and extended family are in my filter bubble on Facebook and Twitter. While I share a lot in common with my family I differ quite a bit politically and in many of my social justice views. Regularly things put up by them and friends of mine that I disagree with show up in my feed and I sometimes comment on them. I also know from the comments I receive from them on stories I share, and things that I post that my stuff is showing up on their walls, and in their feeds. So when I share a post it does reach people outside of the filter. In addition to that it increases the likelihood of something trending. This is not the only thing that the article brought up though. It also brought up the idea that people are less likely to do something concrete to bring about change as they will have already felt that the venting of their moral outrage will be enough. Again I think that this would be hard to prove. The ALS ice bucket challenge raised a lot of money, did this redirect money that may have been spent elsewhere? Probably. Would all of that money for sure been spent elsewhere? It is hard to say. Not likely. There was likely some new capital spent that otherwise would not have gone to charity. I suspect that it is not a zero-sum game. In conclusion it is difficult at this point to say conclusively whether or not social activism for sure works. I know from talking with my friends and family that there have been things that have changed my mind, behaviour, and have made me open my wallet. So I am voting that yes it works.
Okay so if social activism works what is my role in it?
This one really made me think, and honestly made me uncomfortable, which is good. I will start by saying that I am very privileged in life. I am a white male. I have a stable high paying job (top 15% of earners in Canada). I have good health. I have had some things in life literally given to me, while some I have had to work for. While I have gone through some really difficult things at times for the most part my life has been very comfortable and likely will remain so. So why do I bring this up? Well because of the idea of rights vs responsibility.
When I read Katie’s article about silence speaking as loud as words I hit the first bold point and started to argue with it. What she said was, “If we are online, as educators, and we remain silent about issues of social justice, if we tweet only about educational resources and not about the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in Canada, or about the burning of Black churches in the southern United States, we are sending a clear message: These issues are not important.” I started to think about justifiable reasons that someone would have for not posting. Maybe they are really busy, maybe they are in a vulnerable position and making this kind of statement online may make their situation more volatile, etc. Then I reached her second bold quote, “I have a responsibility to use my privilege to speak out and use my network for more than just my own benefit or self-promotion; not doing so is a selfish act.” This one defused me. See, she talks about using our privilege. It is not the responsibility of the vulnerable to endanger themselves by doing social activism, it is the responsibility of those with privilege. (Although sometimes it does fall to the victims to say something like with #metoo.) What does this mean for me? Well it means that as someone with a lot of privilege I have a job to do. I need to work towards developing myself as a justice orientated citizen. I need to say something when I can, and also I have a responsibility to go looking for those opportunities. In other words I need to be willing to be uncomfortable, especially since I have a choice and many do not.
With all of that said I do want to be smart about what I post. I really liked what Shelby had to say on her blog with her idea of 4 rules.
- “How will this be viewed by people who do not know me?”
- “How will this be viewed by people that do know me?”
- “Would I be okay if my students saw this?”
- “Would I be okay if my colleagues/family saw this?”
To this I am going to add that we need to remember that it is not our job to make our families and colleagues comfortable. It is our job to make them better. Hopefully they are doing the same for us. So I would add one more rule.
5. “Will this likely accomplish the change I want it to accomplish?”
With that said I realize that I am going to have to change my use of social media. I am going to have to come up with an action plan to change, just like Marley suggested on her blog. The only thing that is 100% clear in that plan is that silence is not an option.
Thanks for reading.