For MWERA this year, I wrote a paper titled, “Social Media Guidelines and the Gaze.” Actually, I wrote it for a policy class and then used it to present at MWERA, but anyway. My basic premise is that students/people in general don’t benefit from the type of guidelines that are being used to tell them what is “appropriate” in certain spaces on the internet. Most of these guidelines have been “borrowed” directly from large corporations like IBM and Intel that have a vested interested in controlling the behavior of their employees to protect the brand name and the bottom line. This makes sense for corporations, but it does not make sense for schools or “free thinking” individuals (which is what schools should be trying to produce). So, even though I know it sounds strange that I take issues with guidelines like “use good judgment” and “provide value,” I do, and I do because the notions of “good” and “value” are not terms that can be defined without some sort of dominant structure that defines them for us. In the case of corporations, that would be capitalism, but in the case of students and individuals, that would be the dominant culture (a white, middle class culture). And though this culture may be dominant, it is not benign. It does damage to those that don’t “fit” and its reproduction, at the very least, creates little other than the same.
That being said, today I received my Educational Studies bi-monthly journal in the mail. It’s a special issue on Youth, New Media and Education (right up my alley, no?). And in the first article, the authors analyze Youtube as a space for youth to contribute to the discourses of adolescence, but also as a space that is restricted in certain ways (ways that shape thinking and participation). One way? Guidelines put out by Youtube, such as “Be courteous and show respect to the Youtube community.” Hmm.
Then (also just today), this article from Edutopia was posted on Facebook by a friend of mine who is interested in Educational Technology. Its title? “How to teach students to use social media effectively.” The three main sections: “Keep standards high,” “More is not always better,” and “Before posting, examine your motives.” Argh.
So, I know what you are thinking (at least I think I do)… How can we have no guidelines? We can’t just be free hippies frolicking in the woods on the internet, writing whatever we want. Kids need guidance so that they are safe and don’t get hurt. Didn’t you see To Catch a Predator? What about Tyler Clementi?
My response: Guidelines themselves aren’t terrible, but guidelines that pre-limit or pre-think how to use the internet for students is not good (particularly if those guidelines have corporate roots and/or use loaded terms like “effectively,” “good,” “value” and “high standards.”). There is potential in using the internet to rethink identity and subjectivity, but if we insist on pre-shaping it in a way that disallows for any sort of “thinking differently” to occur, then the possibilities of the internet shrivel into the status quo, the same status quo that made Tyler Clementi so embarrassed of being caught with another man that he felt that he had no choice but to jump off of the George Washington bridge. So, do I think it’s important for someone to “be courteous?” Not if it means that they can’t argue that hate and bigotry are unacceptable. Not if it means that they can’t scream at the top of their digital lungs that something is seriously wrong with the way some people are treated.
My Guidelines in response to Edutopia’s Guidelines:
1) Keep standards high. Think, read, talk to as many people as you can, and then think some more. Then, set your own standards that YOU believe are just.
2) More is not always better. Write as much or as little as you want about things that you think matter and things that you think don’t matter. Writing is thinking (see #1).
3) Before posting, examine your motives. Write and share ideas that are half-formed, that you aren’t sure about, that make you hesitate. Then, listen to others, read, think and keep troubling those ideas. And then, when you think you have those ideas all settled, rethink (and share) them again.