Thursday, 17 November 2016

Social Media: It Is What It Isn't

I believe in silver linings.

In the wake of the US election and Donald Trump's mind-blowing victory, everyone from Leftist coffee shop book club members and tree farmers in Virginia to the conceded Democratic candidate and Vladimir Putin have theories about why things turned out the way they did. And now that the dust is settling, people are starting to look deeper at the implications, inner meaning, and ripple effect the Trump presidency will have on the world. Somewhere beyond protests and pundits, there is beginning to emerge a culture of gratitude and understanding that is carefully casting theories about what could possibly line the election dust cloud in silver.

Passionate Eye on CBC hosts "The Choice."
Photo courtesy of CBC.
Take social media. More than once I noticed people (and found myself, to some degree) using Facebook as a news feed, especially when it came to election news. In my own feed, I participated in conversations about the feminist left having a difficult decision to make with a neo-liberal female candidate, read several articles about what makes Bernie Sanders so special, indulged in gossip about DT's shenanigans, and watched a documentary on HRC and DT and their respective careers. Without a great deal of reflection, I became complacent with what I was learning and clung viciously to a statistic I heard from an "expert" commentator in a video posted by CNN: "Donald Trump will never win the election because he will need 80 per cent of the white male vote and that is highly unlikely."



Anyhoo, on election night I was in Toronto at a reception for a tradeshow and among contrived "networking" discussions, I noticed more than half the room was on their phones for a noticeable amount of time and after casually sauntering up next to people at the cheese table, pretending to reach for the jalapeno jack, I saw they were refreshing Twitter for election updates. Interesting, I thought. But it made sense -- up to the minute news in 140 characters or less. Perfect for glancing at between the introductions with strangers and promises to "connect later" that define tradeshow events.

At 11 p.m. EST on election night, I saw on actual TV that Trump was up 230-ish seats over Clinton's 209, but the West Coast hadn't yet been counted. I grinned a little, wiped the nacho crumbs from my lips, finished my pint, and headed off to my room, comfortable in the knowledge that the West Coast was going to save the day.

The next morning, before my eyes were fully open, I reached for my phone (not the TV remote) and checked Facebook (not the CBC or CNN) to see what had happened and how the Dems were celebrating HRC's victory.

Except, of course, they weren't.

But enough about politics. This is really about social media and online presence and the way the world has shifted over the last decade to embrace the world that lives, essentially, in its own cloud.
Like I said, in the days since Election 2016 there has been a lot of ranting, marching, talking, shouting, protesting, hurting, comforting, complaining, blaming, studying, reflecting, caring, discarding, acknowledging, and lamenting but most importantly, there have been some big realizations about social media, its purpose, and its influence.

 Trent Loos, a conservative 50-year-old farmer
from central Nebraska. Photo courtesy of Facebook.
For one thing, Facebook is not a news feed. It is a custom tailored collection of users' likes, interests, friends, and social, economic, and political preferences. It is an RSS feed on steroids because not only does it provide the news sources you prefer but the actual news opinions, perspectives, and bias we crave. We tell it who we are and what we believe in and ask it to send us news to confirm this, and then we eat it up while posting pictures of our idyllic, rain-free camping vacations, luxury dinners out of a slowcooker, and children who never cry. I know I said I was over talking politics, but check out what happens when the Left and Right switch Facebook feeds >> Talk about mystified.

Twitter, in its brevity and simplicity, is a bit more straightforward, but we still choose who to follow, which prompts suggestions about who else to follow based on our own interests and unless we are discerning, we can end up reading the abbreviated version of our Facebook feeds. I checked CNN's Twitter feed for election news because that is what most of the tradeshow gawkers were doing, but I had to sift through commentary from that organization to get to the facts. The upside of Twitter from a news perspective is, of course, you don't need permission to follow anyone and can therefore get the news right from the horse's mouth and perhaps a sense of one's character >>

As educators, our responsibility is to teach
social media objectivity and critical thinking.
Photo courtesy of
As educators embracing the future of education, the use of social media, and the struggle for objectivity it is absolutely essential we treat social media like a good lecture or Christmas dinner with long-lost relatives: be discerning, take what makes sense, and disregard the rest. Although social media opens us up to a vast array of perspectives, supports grassroots journalism, gives a voice to the underrepresented, and combats media oligarchy, it also requires a heavier hand in objectivity and careful consideration for accuracy and, in some cases, just plain truthfulness >>

When everyone has a voice, the objectivity pool is diluted, but that doesn't mean it isn't valuable -- just like the US Election opened our eyes to why social media isn't an objective source of news, it can also show us important perspectives, other than our own, that shape the way the world works. We learn so much more from people we disagree with than we do singing with the choir, and if we can teach open-mindedness and curiosity when it comes to the opinions of others, we can encourage critical thinking, analysis based in reality and, if we are lucky, the drive to unify and see the silver lining.  

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