Sunday, September 4, 2016

Unsocial networking

Have you noticed a change in your Facebook feed over the last couple of years? How many genuinely personal posts do you see per day? In the past we laughed at the idea of people posting what they had for breakfast or other daily trivia but today I welcome such posts because they connect me with a person. Sadly most posts in my feed are just soapboxing or commercial. Many simply broadcast "evidence" for their particular ideology and in many cases there is no real invitation to discussion. So I am well aware of the ideological convictions of many contacts (they remind me several times a day) but know little of the person behind. We've moved away from creating our own content to sharing others' content, preaching to the converted and at the unconverted. The network isn't really social anymore.

There was so much promise that social media would foster dialogue and collaboration over borders but sadly they are becoming echo-chambers and in some cases lawless arenas where bullies, bigots and extremists destroy all attempts at open discussion. Many people are bullied into leaving the main platforms like Facebook and Twitter and even if you're not subject to troll attacks there's simply not enough meaningful interaction to make it worthwhile staying. Instead of promoting freedom, openness and democracy, social media seem to be having the opposite effect. Of course there are still excellent groups and communities where genuine interaction thrives but these are mostly closed or restricted due to the threat of spammers and trolls.

This especially important in education where social media can offer exciting new oportunities for sharing knowledge, resources and experience, both for teachers and students. However I can understand many teachers' reluctance to use social media professionally when they see the excesses that are often spotlighted in the media. Even in professional circles the discussion can turn sour and it only takes one troll to spoil a whole community. Because of this it is essential that we discuss collaborative and participative literacy with colleagues and students and take care to create common ground rules for the communities we use.

I suspect it is too late to radically turn the tide but maybe we can think a little more about how we use social networks and try to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. Here are some personal preferences and tips, in no particular order:
  • Don't preach. Interesting articles are fine but not the same topic all the time. You won't change my views by bombarding your contacts, they will simply switch you off.
  • Be personal sometimes. Tell about your life, small bits of trivia, with a bit of humour and self-distance.
  • Please don't use reposting options that use several platforms at once (eg everything you post on Twitter is instantly reposted on Facebook). It can be seen as spam. 
  • Develop your own basic social media plan. Decide on clear profiles for each of your accounts and stick to them, eg Twitter for work related material, Facebook for more personal content, Instagram for photos, LinkedIn for purely professional matters.
  • If you want to post daily photos and updates of your children, cats, gym visits, diet etc consider creating a group for this and inviting friends who you know will be interested. You can arrange your friends on facebook into different categories and then when you post you can choose whether to broadcast to all or to send only to one category (eg cat lovers). The rest of us don't mind occasional glimpses into these areas but not every day!
I confess I have broken these rules myself but I'm trying to clean up my act!
Do you recognize this trend? Any other tips?


  1. Make a difference between marketing and sharing. Why are you posting?

  2. Not sure what you mean here but I think a lot of shared content is posted as marketing for a point of view or ideology. My point is that social networks have moved from personal communication to broadcasting and soapboxing and that is sad.

  3. Thanks. I do commit some of these sins from time to time. Will try to do better.