Sunday, March 13, 2011

Turning on the Power: Twitterverse and Blogosphere, Anyone There?

Read this, I dare you!  It's an invitation to respond to social media in their own contexts to optimize their power to make a difference and, in this case, to wrestle with who gets to tell a story and ensure it gets told with authority.

What has made the relatively new and emerging social media environments so powerful has unquestionably been the capacity they create for rivetting communities to issues and for creating and staging political impact, positive or negative.  We have seen the effects as citizen journalists publish to youtube or as Julian Assange et al created Wikileaks.  From the excitement of the flashmob to the shock of the new revolutions and global disasters, we are able to view and read about amazing examples of the flexing of the power of social media networks.  No longer is the news a matter of what those with positions of power over information decide is important for us the public to know.  Now we are seeing the blowback from tweeps and bloggers when organizations try to leverage issues for disaster for profile or share of audience or users:  "Self-promoting Bing tweet has Twitter world sputtering," The Province (2011 March 13 A2, see post following).

With the shift in the relationship of readers/viewers to information comes an emerging sense of the efficacy of the reader/viewer, from passive consumer to creative, constructive agent choosing from an overwhelming body of sources of information not only who he or she wants to "read" and read/view with, what content to read and/or view (and believe), what ethical values are acceptable, and also how or whether he or she will participate and respond to the sources, including the traditional ones.

So the true marvel of social media is what it has done to shift the locus of power from those who traditionally had authority for information to new groups beginning to sense and activate their own strengths in relation to the new locus.  It's not just about the creators of the information but about how the audience or readers choose to use their greater understanding of a new relationship to the power of information.  That shifted relationship and the emerging political capacity of social media are optimized when users exercise their critical responsibility to assess what is worthwhile, that is, what is worth reading, what is worth passing along, and what is worth acting on.  Because sometimes, just sometimes, it is important to recognize just exactly how powerful social media has been and can be in pulling the focus to where the group agrees it needs to be, not on where those who have customarily had the power over the focus might, in their considered view, feel it needs to be or not be.

Why am I telling you this?  Last week, I tweeted and blogged a local concern.  I believe in the revolution and the power of the social media networks that I participate in.  I wanted to shape in my terms a response to an article in our local newspaper that incorrectly suggested book-banning is alive and well in the Vancouver school district where I work.  Scratch the surface a little and you may get a whiff of something else here, but my response is simple:  not to worry, students, staff, parents, and others.  There is no book-banning going on and I have the authority to say just that. 

The trouble is, I just can't get the newspaper to publish my response.  It's a tricky thing.  I am well aware, and am reminded by a number of email correspondents, that I need to reduce my piece to 150 words if I want it published.  People willing to do that did just that.  But I have the authority for a body of information that illuminates the considerable gaps in the logic of the original account and I want a fair claim on the space it takes to fix that account.  The editor explains that, in a few weeks, my longer clarification will appear in a hard-to-find Reader Soapbox section of the online version of the newspaper.

Those who know me will agree, I am not used to being dismissed or silenced!  And I have a hard enough time with authority asserted for authority's sake, that is, authority that I do not understand or respect or authority that doesn't acknowledge the possibility that someone with authority for the information can set the record straight.

How do we, the social media network, shape this in our own terms?  Here's where you came in, blogosphere and twittyverse.  Our blog posts and tweets take place in a very public venue; that is, we can publish which is amazing to me and I love it -- the unleashing of the writer in his/her own terms makes for some very honest and illuminating writing. 

For some or all of this, what we educators write is shared with a pretty interesting cross-section of the educational and related other communities.  Where else do you get to chat with, follow, and be followed by administrators, superintendents, the National Film Board, writers' groups, and colleagues within and outside the school district?  It's very cool.  It's "gr8" to have a group that reads deeply enough and thinks about the political possibilities when what is tweeted or blogged is intended as social commentary or an invitation to engage in political action.  Consider how the Twittyverse responded to Bing's crass use of the high-magnitude global disaster and its thousands of victims in Japan to engage in an appeal lightly disguised as fund-raising for victims of the Japanese earthquake disaster but clearly a blatant and unconscionable promotion that saw an opportunity in the isaster to draw tweeps to its search engine services; this, said the Twittyverse, is a no-go.

My blog of the real story was re-tweeted by several district authorities and colleagues who, in their various roles, are recognized as worth following and are regular participants in the educational discussions I like to follow and contribute to lightly; the uptake however was minimal.  Daily digested tweets for the day didn't pick this up for sharing ... except for the BCTLA.  Emails to listservs brought more direct responses, all supportive, although they are not accessible to the public.  Last week, in my circles, what gained most traction were the re-tweets of links to articles about tools, resources, and events. 

Ironically, in Freedom to Read week, when those leaders in the field of technology integration with teaching and learning were offered an opportunity to respond to a story that involved reading about the capricious use of facts to support a flimsy premise that impugned the work of credible educators, there was little evidence they are reading and thinking about how they can shift the story and readers from the base in traditional media to their own places, responding to it in their own terms and in their own spaces.

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