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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Role Do You Play in Social Media?

By Peter DeWitt — March 22, 2015 4 min read
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Twitter, Voxer and Facebook are all supposed to help us feel connected. We see friends...make friends...and share stories and resources. It’s the whole reason why educators using social media are referred to as connected educators.

But sometimes, it seems as though too much use of social media can create a feeling of isolation.

I know that seems odd, especially if you consistently read this blog and count the number of times that I have written about the importance of social media and being connected. Maybe it’s the long winter , but I feel a bit isolated lately when it comes to Twitter, Voxer and Facebook.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” No disrespect to Eleanor but she wasn’t on Twitter. If she was, she may have found that people can make us feel quite inferior from time to time.


It seems as though social media doesn’t provide the connection we say that it does. I feel like we go through the motions on outlets like Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great chats that encourage incredible and thought provoking dialogue, but during a normal day or night, I feel like I’m beginning to see the same old thing over and over again.

Just like any good drama, I feel like we each play a part in the play of Twitter. Slap on a costume to help set the stage, and when the lights go on and curtain goes up we see:

  • ReTweeters - They don’t offer much to the conversation, but they do RT which is important. Perhaps it is due to the fact that they are just beginning to connect, so reTweeting is like putting their toe in the water to get used to it.
  • Antagonists - They Tweet out 140 characters attacking someone else’s Tweet. Perhaps they are disagreeing with a blogger’s opinion, but it’s like watching a lion go after a gazelle on a safari. Antagonists aren’t looking for common ground...they don’t want dialogue. They want to win an argument. Antagonists get the last word.
  • Cheerleaders - They love everything! They cheer...they RT...they cheer some more. Cheerleaders are important, especially if they are cheering for you. We can almost hear tham saying, “Yeah! What she said!”
  • Radicals - They have a cause...or two or three of them. Their Tweets are all about exposing injustice and speaking out. Don’t get in their path because they bring friends...and lots of them. Their causes are serious and important, but they aren’t exactly open to dialogue either. We also see them in groups on Facebook. Beware...leave one opposing comment and suffer the consequences.
  • Informants - They Tweet out information. They provide their voice about issues and topics. Perhaps they write a blog...like this one or they like talking about social media...on social media. Informants give us the information that we need. News articles and blogs from reliable sources like the Guardian, NY Times, Atlantic, Education Week and the Washington Post.
  • One Liners - These people Tweet out one liners. Maybe a clever one to gain followers, or one sentence to disagree with someone’s Tweet. When asked for clarification, the people behind the one liners don’t usually respond. One liners can humor and inspire us, or sometimes they leave us wanting for more.
  • Trolls - They troll social media looking for a good story or Tweet. Like a vulture looking for a dead carcass, abusers get their thrills by abusing others on-line using anonymous names so they cannot be found.

Truth be told, I have played most of the parts, except for the one liners and trolls. Usually I like the dialogue that happens on social media, but lately I feel like it’s individual Tweets of monologue and not anything that creates dialogue.

Connection Not Isolation

Lately, I’m actually trying to take time to figure out my place in it all, and creating a balance between real life and social media life. Let’s face it, the interactions on Twitter can be hard and somewhat discouraging.

As I write this, a story appeared on the Today Show about Ashley Judd. Judd and Dick Vitale shared a kiss at a March Madness game and social media went crazy. Judd said,

The way things happen on social media is so abusive, and everyone needs to take personal responsibility for what they write, and not allowing this misinterpretation and shaming culture on social media to persist. And by the way, I'm pressing charges."

It was only a few weeks ago that former Boston Red Sox player Curt Shilling provided his own much-needed smack down on vicious Tweets directed toward his daughter. Although the people I follow are in no way even 1% as harsh as those who Tweeted the above comments, I have noticed that there is a lot of negativity. And yes, negative people were negative long before Facebook or Twitter.

To me, this means we have an important job to do when teaching students about the correct use of social media. Of course, there parents need to play the part of a teacher as well, and model appropriate interactions on social media or provide their children with consequences when they go over the line.

Social media should be about making a connection with others around the world. It’s such a great tool to use to give students a better understanding of their world, and it is certainly an important tool to connect likeminded educators together to share ideas and stretch thinking.

It just seems that from time to time that social media fosters isolation more than connection because too many people want to spin their monologue and not engage in dialogue at all.

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Creative Common photo courtesy of Nic McPhee.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.