This Is Not A Hashtag

[Transcript for This is Not a Hashtag from Ignite Waterloo, by Jane Barkley]

It takes a lot to get up in front of any group of people and speak, and having your attention in doing that is a courtesy that I really value. I know a lot of you have been tweeting, but I’m going to ask you to set your mobile devices down for just a few minutes to enable that courtesy.

A similar request was made at another event recently- the organizers asked that people respect some boundaries around tweeting. Some people appreciated it, some didn’t care, and some people got really pissed off. Their argument was that people have the right to tweet what, when, and how they want. I found that idea really interesting- tweeting as a right. 

Free Speech

I thought about what that meant for my 15 year old son- I even pictured him trying to assert his ‘right to tweet’ in class while his teacher was speaking. I don't think it would go over so well. I think about social media in this context a lot- the example that’s being set for my son and his generation- because increasingly, he’s seeing how people can use social media to coerce, bully, misrepresent, and even push people towards suicide. He's seen how young men can use it to broadcast rape, and how easy it is to distance yourself from consequences.

And a lot of the world comes to him through social media. It does for me too.

When I initially heard about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut it was through Twitter- before there were any substantiated facts. As a parent, I couldn’t help putting myself in the shoes of those parents. The thought of my children going to school, like any other day, and being taken from the world like that…is something I have no words for. I wasn’t (and am still not) convinced that I had any right to express anything about Newtown.

But I was the minority. Immediately after Newtown there were hashtags, grief, gun control, complaints that President Obama had to cut into a Patriot’s game to talk about the shootings. Kmart even used it as an opportunity to promote product. I’d love to say it was like nothing I’ve ever seen, but the desire to be first, to be loudest, to be most popular, just to be part of the conversation (whether or not we SHOULD be part of the conversation) is a daily reality across all platforms. I guess what struck me in particular about Newtown was that we were willing to use use children’s deaths to do that.

Before you assume I have a huge hate on for social media, I’ll tell you that I’m an active user on over 30 different social networks, and spend most of my days on or researching various social media. It’s a huge part of my life. I wouldn’t be married, or have my daughters without it. But I don’t embrace it without criticism. And one of my main criticisms is that we spend a huuuuuuuge amount of energy on what WE want to say on social media, but very little time on the impact it has (or in teaching younger users how to weigh that impact when they interact on social media).

I don’t really know the impact of my own actions on social media. Last week on Twitter I reached approx. 24 000 people over 7 days. I don’t know those people. I don’t know for sure how my words may have affected them. I try to be honest and considerate, and I’d like to think that nothing I’m putting out there is hurting anyone. That’s not necessarily true for everyone, like Westborough Baptist Church, who have multiple accounts and tweet things like “God sent the Boston bombings in fury over fag marriage”. This is how they exercise their right to tweet.

Defend freedom of speech quote Voltaire

Whether or not we agree with each other’s point of view, we do have the right to express those points of view, BUT attached to that right is a responsibility to be accountable for how our freedom of speech impacts other people. The words, the timing, the context, the people, and the example we set with every word we publicly broadcast. And we have tons of practice doing that face to face. 

What we’re less practiced in is being media. 

Traditionally, media has been impartial, representing what’s true- objectively, accountably, and fairly. There’s a code of ethics that’s supposed to reinforce this. And they don’t always hit that mark, but you and I don’t even have that established code of ethics for social media, so we kind of need to get with it and have more critical conversations about this cool new world and how we’re guiding the next generations to navigate it with boundaries and integrity.

I’m not the social media integrity police. But I do know, and want my kids to know that this...

Child Victims of Newtown Connecticut

 ... is not a hashtag.