Sunday, August 11, 2019

Rainbows & Unicorns It Is Not!

Two things: this is exactly my opinion of social media at times
lately and I love giphy.com! You can find ANYTHING there!
Social media has been a life-changing phenomenon for me as a professional.  Without (mainly) Twitter, Facebook, and more recently, Instagram, I am not sure where I would be at this point in my career.  I have learned so much from so many people, many of whom have become great friends, and have found an outlet of positivity for educators when traditional media, internet trolls, and people in our communities have bashed education and educators for far too long.  However, over the past few weeks, I have begun to notice something: social media has morphed into something else and I do not like the direction that it has taken.  

Internet trolls thrive on anonymity.  By sitting behind a screen, trolls believe they can say whatever they want without consequence, oftentimes things that they would never say to somebody's face.  And many trolls doing only to get a rise out of people, trying to bait people into a conversation so they can continue to humiliate and antagonize people.  I don't engage trolls, and most of the time I block them if I see them, even when I am not their intended target (come to think of it, I can't think of a time in recent memory where I was the target of a troll, thankfully).  I also do not engage online in political, religious, or debate on current events, even with those that I know because it is not worth the hassle when (not if) it turns ugly.  I would rather focus my energies on the positives and scroll onward in my feed.  

While my Twitter account is normally a positive place, as my list of those I follow is all educators save for about 10 sports teams and a comedy podcast that I listen to, lately, my feed has not been immune to troll-like behavior and belittlement by others.  What I have noticed in recent months is that civil discussion about topics in education is becoming more of a virtual shouting match, or even a group of people "ganging up" on somebody when they express an opinion.  For example's sake, let's say that somebody tweets an idea about taking steps to reduce homework in their classes this year.  Rather than encouraging the person, sharing ideas on how to do so, etc., individuals will often attack the person, pointing out that reducing homework is not enough, that anything but zero homework is unacceptable.  Now, instead of motivated by their goal of reducing homework, now this person feels deflated because of the vicious attacks by the social media saviors of education and humanity. 

Another thing I am noticing is the number of accounts that have abandoned sharing ideas and interacting with other educators in favor of trying to post "viral" quotes and stances on various issues, especially what I have always referred to as "chair throwing issues".  These are the ones that are controversial and if you watch long enough, eventually, the debate will become so heated that somebody will throw a chair (in our political climate, gun control is definitely one of those, and right to life versus pro-choice is another that has its moments in the spotlight).  Those behind these accounts will post their position or quote and sit back waiting for the likes and shares.  After a while, somebody will comment with their position, sometimes agreeing, sometimes respectfully disagreeing.  At this point, the original poster jumps in and attacks those that are not 100% behind their tweet.  Homework is another great example of this.  

In one such exchange I saw recently on a post regarding a zero homework policy, an AP teacher commented that they assign some reading homework for their class because there is so much material to cover.  Right away, the author of the post and their following ripped this poor teacher for "destroying these students" self-esteem, family time, etc.  I honestly felt terrible for this teacher that simply shared their thoughts and reasons why they assign reading for homework.  I don't know how much reading this teacher assigned, what subject it was, I just saw this person destroyed by strangers when these strangers easily could have sparked a discussion on how to cover material without having to assign students reading to complete at home.  Instead, many people have an all or nothing mentality, where one must agree with 100% of a thought without question, or they are 100% against them.  And unfortunately, many of those guilty of these attacks, whether blatant or passive-aggressively, are the "educelebrities" of social media, those that have a ton of followers and significant influence through their contributions to education, their expertise, and their opinions. 

And while there has been more negativity lately, it doesn't stop there.  There is also an overabundance of the "perfect" classrooms, lessons, etc.  Very rarely do I see people posting about their struggles with something, it's always the polished and beautiful result.  Pinterest inspired classrooms, sketchnotes that no average person would ever be able to create, and handpicked student projects that make one look better flood the streams.  And while I could be sharing more of my failures and struggles, it's rather discouraging when I see things like this because it's something that the average educator now feels that they need to "live up to", myself included.  I have never done much with sketchnoting because of this, even after hearing multiple people say, "it's whatever you make of it, don't worry about how it looks".  But even then, encouraging people to draw their thinking instead of writing it while displaying borderline Da Vincis to the world isn't a great way to inspire others to try sketchnoting. 

And I have to give Ryan O'Donnell a shout out for this next thought: when replying to a message in which several people have been tagged, if it is something that enriches the conversation and moves it forward, by all means, reply to everybody.  However, too often messages are sent to everybody that pertain to only one in the thread (think email reply all).  This can often lead to a series of notifications that are meaningless to many, as they do not apply to anything regarding the original message. 

I get especially irritated by some of the "Follow Friday" or other random tags of people in messages that eventually result in a lot of "irrelevant to my mission of social media" notifications.  I have turned more and more to muting conversations or even individuals as a result of these types of messages overrunning my feed and notifications.  I wholeheartedly agree that we should follow other educators and that we are better when working and communicating together, but must we announce that to every person that we follow, follows us, or we happen to meet at a conference?  A lot of times, I feel like many of these types of posts are simply ploys to gain likes and followers rather than an authentic method of connecting educators to one another. 

And I don't want to come across as some ungrateful jerk, but there are many reasons why I am not on social media. I'm not on social media to be force-fed opinions masqueraded as fact.  I'm not on social media to be attacked or witness others being attacked, especially if trying to participate in civilized discussion.  I'm not on social media to earn followers, likes, retweets, and saccharine-laced messages of how my mere presence or the presence of others somehow makes the world go round.   I appreciate civil discourse, words of encouragement, and opinions so long as they are supported by fact and presented respectfully. 

There is enough negativity on social media, especially outside of the educators that have embraced social media.  I understand that toxicity is like cancer and can spread quickly and easily, that is why it is important for educators to stay positive in the face of negativity.  But at the same time, positivity needs to be authentic and needs to celebrate the struggles as much as the successes.  I know that many are going to have issues with my thoughts here and I welcome you to disagree, respectfully. 

Until next time...