"Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something."
- Attributed to Plato
As you read this article, I ask that you reflect honestly on your use of Twitter, your own interactions with other educators, and interactions that you have observed between other educators.
I am a strong believer that Twitter serves a valuable role in the ongoing professional learning and professional networking of educators around the world. It provides opportunities for international collaboration and sharing, for learning from varied teaching contexts. It allows us to share our mistakes, and our failures; but also to celebrate our successes. It allows us to network with educators we would not normally have access to for any number of reasons.
Twitter can be a toxic cesspit of bitter one up-manship, of misunderstandings that lead to bruised egos and self-justified crusades against opponents, and a series of echo chambers.
Just after 2017 began, the dark side became too much to deal with for one person, Lindy West and she deactivated her Twitter account. She wrote about it here, however, I include below a few particular sections from her article that I hope adequately highlight what see as a growing issue.
One moment I was brains-deep in the usual way, half-heartedly arguing with strangers about whether or not it’s “OK” to suggest to Steve Martin that calling Carrie Fisher a “beautiful creature”who “turned out” to be “witty and bright as well” veered just a hair beyond Fisher’s stated boundaries regarding objectification...and the next moment the US president-elect was using the selfsame platform to taunt North Korea about the size and tumescence of its nuclear program. And I realised: eh, I’m done. I could be swimming right now. Or flossing. Or digging a big, pointless pit. Anything else.
Twitter, for the past five years, has been a machine where I put in unpaid work and tension headaches come out. I write jokes there for free. I post political commentary for free. I answer questions for free. I teach feminism 101 for free. Off Twitter, these are all things by which I make my living...[b]ut on Twitter, I do them pro bono and, in return, I am micromanaged in real time by strangers; neo-Nazis mine my personal life for vulnerabilities to exploit; and men enjoy unfettered, direct access to my brain so they can inform me, for the thousandth time, that they would gladly rape me if I weren’t so fat.
I’m pretty sure “ushered in kleptocracy” would be a deal-breaker for any other company that wanted my business. If my gynaecologist regularly hosted neo-Nazi rallies in the exam room, I would find someone else to swab my cervix. If I found out my favourite coffee shop was even remotely complicit in the third world war, I would – bare minimum – switch coffee shops; I might give up coffee altogether.
The EduTwitter community, in my experience over the last few years, has not been like this. However, I question what role we as educators should be playing in this. We are in a unique position within our communities where we can affect change on a significant scale and change attitudes. Is this something that we should find an appropriate way to bring to bear on these rampant and disgusting issues?
I have seen Twitter conversations escalate very quickly from civil lowercase a argument to seemingly verbal nuclear-war capital a Arguments. very quickly. It feels like EduTwitter is becoming, in some ways a series of echo chambers, where within each chamber, an idea is mutually agreed upon and everyone in that idea is rushing to show that they agree. Dissenting and alternative opinions, it seems, are increasingly being shouted down, a tendency which I find rather disturbing. Is it not the case that diversity breeds change and that needing to be able to effectively argue (note the lower case a argue) our viewpoint can be a significant tool in strengthening our understanding of the problem while also opening us to alternative opinions?
I certainly do not think that this attitude is rampant, however, I do believe that the incidence of Arguments that lose civility and descend into name-calling has grown. The number and intensity of of the echo chambers also appear to be growing and they are difficult to avoid. I do not excuse myself from falling into them, as I have done so on occasion, which is partly why I have reduced my engagement with organised chats. Whilst I understand that the point of organised EduTwitter chats is for educators to come together around a common interest or subject and share ideas. I have benefited greatly from a number of them over the last few years.
My concern stems from the way I have observed those who question the status quo or share dissenting opinion being shouted down or spoken to with derision, almost as if to say "oh, you think that? Wow, get with the times, we all know that's wrong."
I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this. Am I off the mark? Close? Do we need to rethink how we engage with Twitter, both our EduTwitter community, and Twitter writ large or is it ok? Let me know in the comments below.