This post was last updated on 8 months ago at 8 months ago
Since the inception of social media which emerged in and around 2005-07, it has gone from something as silly and useless to essential and powerful to dangerous and divisive. Perhaps all of those elements remain in some respects but certainly, the danger and divisiveness is the dominant narrative. If you’ve watched The Social Dilemma or done any other extensive reading, you’re quite aware of the harm it has and continues to cause our society. There isn’t a current issue that isn’t ripe for controversy, misinformation and vitriol. We’re overheating everywhere.
When I joined Twitter in 2007, it was definitely a silly and seemingly useless space. There were no such thing as followers, hashtags or mentions. As someone interested in the power of connectivity and networking, I found it to be a fantastic way to find interesting people. While some were already using it as a space to share serious and useful content, I just wanted to get to know others. As an educator is was a virtual staff room. A place where educators would come together to try and get away from the challenges of teaching but like any teacher will revert back to the job and look for support from colleagues. When I did work in schools, my personality was such that I tended to be the one to lighten the mood. I intentionally would tell stories about my family and life that usually had me as the butt of the joke. As a group we also loved sharing stories of students that were generally endearing and funny. It was rare that we shared stories that demeaned students. I was fortunate to spend my career surrounded largely by caring, thoughtful educators who loved children. But I also found a role to create a culture of joy and laughter. As I gained confidence in my own leadership, I began to see this more clearly and purposefully over the course of my career.
This same disposition is what I tried to do with my social media experience. Early on, this was pretty easy and it was the way I began to connect and relate to people from around the world. I think one advantage of those early days was its lack of status and metrics. Everyone was equal and I think it made things less competitive as there was nothing to compete for. Over time, of course, it did become more structured and promoted as a place to share resources and ideas. This wasn’t something that was particularly exciting to me as my resource and ideas were coming from longer form sharing via blogs or subscriptions to others’ bookmarks. But Twitter and Facebook (I’ve never used this much for professional purposes) began to evolve and become more mainstream and my viewing it as a “virtual staffroom” began to dissolve. I realize many were able to maintain it’s purpose and value, I was not. As a result, I would occasionally venture into political and educational tweets that were nothing more than my version of the “airing of grievances“. Even my more thoughtful questions and wonderings often had divisive qualities to them. The bottom line is I wasn’t staying true to my nature of building a culture of joy.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to engaged in deeper conversations about education and politics. I do. But in the same way that barging into the staffroom and going on a rant about something was usually seen as inappropriate, I don’t want to do that anymore. Again, it’s not about ignoring issues or toxic positivity but rather protecting spaces. When certain staff began to dominate and bring their grievances and problems into the staffroom during a 15 minute break, we would see others choose to stay in their rooms. On the occasion I was perceptive enough to notice this shift, I would work hard to change the narrative and return the space to a time where we could rest, laugh and be re-energized.
And yet it’s become more difficult for me to make Twitter great again. I would blame the platform for much of it and it’s also about how folks choose to use it. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to voice their opinions. debate and change people’s minds. There are examples for sure of how social media has influenced and supported change both positively and negatively. Some would argue it’s my privilege that allows me to avoid these conversations. Perhaps, but as I said, I’m not opposed to having hard conversations in fact I welcome it but hard converations, in my opinion, require relationships and spaces where ideas can be shared in full and civil discourse is prized and promoted. I don’t think social media is that place.
All that to say, while I understand why many have deleted their accounts I still find value and take pride in making someone smile. That’s not a small thing. Laughter and joy are something we’re running short of and my privilege and blessings suggest I share them with the world. This doesn’t mean I never ask a question or tweet something more serious. I just want to be more careful that it doesn’t divide but encourages. But my best work comes from sharing my grandkids, sports, my wonderful marriage and my own unique sense of humour. I want to believe social media can still do the things I thought it could do in 2007. Connect me with smart folks and provide a space for me to share joyful things.
If you don’t follow me on Twitter, here’s a treat for you.
I can’t do much for folks during this really challenging time but maybe i can bring a smile or two to the world. I’ll take that as a decent contribution. These comments today validate my efforts. Thank you.