In a post a few months ago, I discussed the growing issue of ‘silence’ in the education debate on Twitter. People keep their views private (but use Direct Messages to share concerns) for fear of reprisal and exclusion if they deviated from a fashionable idea or use of terminology.
Last week, TED released Jon Ronson’s talk on public shaming via Twitter. For him, using Twitter at the start was a vehicle for emancipation:
Voiceless people realised that they had a voice, and it was powerful and eloquent. If a newspaper ran some racist or homophobic column, we realised we could do something about it. We could get them. We could hit them with a weapon that we understood but they didn’t — a social media shaming. Advertisers would withdraw their advertising. When powerful people misused their privilege, we were going to get them.This was like the democratisation of justice. Hierarchies were being levelled out. We were going to do things better.
However, use of the service also has its drawbacks:
Twitter is basically a mutual approval machine. We surround ourselves with people who feel the same way we do, and we approve each other, and that’s a really good feeling. And if somebody gets in the way, we screen them out. And do you know what that’s the opposite of? It’s the opposite of democracy.
Where it really becomes problematic is when poor phrasing and the lack of context around the 140 characters becomes a mechanism of damnation:
You can lead a good, ethical life, but some bad phraseology in a Tweet can overwhelm it all, become a clue to your secret inner evil. Maybe there’s two types of people in the world: those people who favour humans over ideology, and those people who favour ideology over humans. I favour humans over ideology, but right now, the ideologues are winning, and they’re creating a stage for constant artificial high dramas where everybody’s either a magnificent hero or a sickening villain, even though we know that’s not true about our fellow humans. What’s true is that we are clever and stupid; what’s true is that we’re grey areas. The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people, but we’re now creating a surveillance society, where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.
I remember running training sessions urging teachers to use Twitter as a professional development tool with Doug Belshaw in 2008. The sense of idealism driving the workshop has since been dulled because there seems to be more of a ‘surveillance society’ in the use of Twitter in education circles. If you have a few minutes, I recommend watching the clip below.