#TeacherVoice – What does Social Media Activism mean for teachers?

Is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online?

Is it possible? Yes, it’s possible in the same way that having productive conversations about anything online is possible. From the inside of a very well curated and thoughtfully crafted social media account I can certainly discuss topics related to race, gender expression and identity and sexuality. However, it cannot go without noting that I have a network of other educators, friends and acquaintances that I either reached out and followed OR have survived years of rounds of deleting/blocking others who posted content that was racist, sexist or some type of other-ist. That being said the fact that I had removed them from my various timelines for one reason or another suggests that I believe that you cannot always have productive conversations in regards to social justice online. Or at very least, I am not always willing for my own personal well-being to engage in those types of conversations online.

Furthermore, if you are only having productive online conversations with other people whose intersectionality’s are similar to yours – is that forwarding the causes you care about championing?

So, while I question if those productive conversations are making a difference – I do firmly believe it is possible to have them. Although – Is it likely? I am much less sure in my answer than I used to be. This is mostly due to the fact that increasingly social media places have incentivized content, and conversations that are not productive that are in fact the opposite. If outrage fuels online engagement, and social media companies are reliant on their customers to be engaged so they can access their data, or advertise to them – why would they make an effort to moderate content that acts counterproductively to social justice?

Beyond a deep rooted mistrust of the companies that run social media platforms, and their likely complicity in the online spread of hatred and vitriol there also remains another question:

Can online social media activism be meaningful and worthwhile?

Again, I am perhaps a perpetual optimist. I think that social media as part of a larger plan of activism can be successful, meaningful, change making and of course – worthwhile. In class this week we were presented with many different examples of how social media can be used to spread awareness, connect marginalized groups, or amplify a message in a way that simply cannot be achieved in the offline world.

In 2006, the “me too.” Movement was founded by survivor and activist Tarana Burke. In those early years, we developed our vision to bring resources, support, and pathways to healing where none existed before. And we got to work building a community of advocates determined to interrupt sexual violence wherever it happens. Then, in 2017, the #metoo hashtag went viral and woke up the world to the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence. What had begun as local grassroots work had now become a global movement — seemingly overnight. Within a six-month span, our message reached a global community of survivors. Suddenly there were millions of people from all walks of life saying “me too”. 

– From the History and Origins of #metoo movement; https://metoomvmt.org/get-to-know-us/history-inception/

What is our responsibility as educators to model active citizenship online?

This question is really more simple than it sounds. I think that often teachers do not feel “safe” curating a public facing persona that actively interrogates issues of social justice. Generally this is because we have, as a stipulation of our job agreed that we should conduct ourselves in a manner that portrays both honour and dignity of the profession. I think that many teachers translate that to mean that they then must curate a “neutral” online presence.

Screen Captured from EC&I 831 October 18th 2021 Lecture via Dr. Alec Couros

I find that frustrating.

It feels like they are suggesting by advocating for social justice causes through active online citizenship you are not being ethical or dignified. Now don’t get me wrong, having a full out profanity laced argument in a comment section is certainly NOT dignified. But I also believe that staying neutral by way of silence on issues in regards to the basic rights of others, or a general belief in science – is not dignified either.

Too often we conflate, issues that are uncomfortable with controversial, and issues considered controversial with issues of social justice.

Westheimer, (2004) suggests that in education for democracy there are three concepts of citizenship – Personally Responsible Citizens, Participatory Citizens and Justice Oriented Citizens. In the article’s conclusion I found it fascinating to read that in their study of educational programs operating within all three of these conceptions they made note that programs that “champion participation, do not necessarily develop students ability to analyze and critique root causes of societal problems (p. 21)”.

Screen Captured from EC&I 831 October 18th 2021 Lecture via Dr. Alec Couros

So then, where does that leave us?

Screen Captured from EC&I 831 October 18th 2021 Lecture via Dr. Alec Couros

Just as we would argue that we need participatory and justice-oriented citizens in face-to-face contexts, we need these citizens in online spaces as well.

-Dr. Alec Couros & Katia Hildebrandt What Kind of (Digital) Citizen?

At the end of the day I could go on forever making the case for the importance of teachers taking an online stance (which could take as many forms as there are teachers taking stances).

But what I really want to ask any teachers who may be reading this is:

  • How do you ask your students to behave online?
  • When you envision your students interacting with others online and using the model of digital citizenship that you teach – what are you envisioning?

I’m pretty sure your response would likely fall along the lines of “with kindness and compassion” or “standing up for others and making a difference”.

So if that is what we are expecting of our students when they engage in an online world – Who should be modelling it for them?

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6 thoughts on “#TeacherVoice – What does Social Media Activism mean for teachers?”

  1. Victoria,
    I appreciated reading your blog. Your point “not always willing for my own personal well-being to engage in those types of conversations online” is something that really resonated with me. I often say that I don’t want to spend the time and energy devoted to entering a conversation online with people who hold such narrow-minded views. I find it easier to block their feeds or unfollowing their accounts. I agree that we need to find meaningful ways to model how to engage in controversial and uncomfortable discussions with our students. I think it would be important to discuss with a class and show ways to stand up for others that are making a difference, or how to be civil when disagreeing with others online.

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    1. Thanks James! I am glad that is not just maybe my own grumpy or jaded view. I find that sometimes not just those conversations but also posting about or advocating for some topics that I really do care about – but also perhaps hit a little too close to home for me is mentally or emotionally overwhelming. I was really silent on social media in May and June last year when it was abuzz with educators speaking out on and posting about the finding of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc children. I was so proud of many of my colleagues for using their Teacher Voices – but I just did not have the capacity at that time to join them on Social media. I know that during that week myself and many other Indigenous educators felt really overwhelmed with the requests for assistance or resources or reaching out to Old Ones, and the emotional work of that alongside my own sadness (not necessarily surprise) was really hard. I didn’t feel like I had anything left to give, especially online. I am SURE other people in our course probably feel that way too on a whole range of different topics that touch closely to their own intersections of marginalization.

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  2. Very well-written post, Victoria!

    At the beginning of my career, I honestly got scared into not posting anything online and just decided avoiding social media altogether was the best course of action. As I am learning more about the impact of social media and how it can be harnessed to create change, I’m starting to gain some confidence in this area. I got goosebumps when you said that not speaking out about issues of social justice is not dignified either, going back to the idea of what someone’s silence says. This really resonated with me and I will keep this in the back of my mind to share with my students, but also to encourage myself to speak up.

    I think teachers are in such a unique position when it comes to teaching how to have productive conversations online. An exercise my co-teachers and I have done in the past is pull up our Twitter feeds and explore the Twitter feeds of others. As part of this discussion, we’ve also created a post together. I think this provides an authentic example and shows students just how far-reaching social media can be.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights– well done!

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    1. Wow, I would love to compare Twitter feeds with other educators- I know that I have noticed in the last couple of years like you I have also felt more and more confident in my online interactions. As a result, I now follow more activists and organizations that I know in the past I may have worried made me appear not to be “neutral” and as a result, my timeline looks very different (and perhaps at times a little less sanitized). I am glad I have taken over my Twitter account for personal/professional use now instead of a classroom account.

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  3. Great post. You did a really good job of putting your thoughts together and making their transition so seamlessly. Like I have said in many of our peer’s posts this week, I too find teachers to be in such a unique situation. Because I don’t spend a ton of time on social media, I don’t feel the need to go above and beyond on it to communicate with people and to share my perspectives. Maybe I do this intentionally to keep more headspace to all of the things that are going on, but does this show that I am complicit then? I think that we are always walking such a fine line as educators, and I never really know if what I am doing is enough. I really like Leigh’s example of Twitter feeds and working together. This is a practical example that educators can bring into the classroom to show digital citizenship. But without digital citizenship being in the curriculum, how do we know that kiddos are learning it? And teachers are modeling it?

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    1. Thank Kelly! I don’t want to seem as though I feel that silence = complictness in every situation – I do think it’s important that it’s acknowledged (sort of what I said in the comment to James) that some times, and some topics are difficult to make an online stand. And I think that is okay. I also think it’s okay to remain a person who doesn’t partake much in social media in any circumstance – so how can you be expected to curate a justice-oriented online persona for the small amount you do partake? I think that it is a balance.

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