Reflecting on Social Media & Politics Twitter Chat

Today, because of school Halloween celebrations, I rearranged my usual class schedule and ended up having my prep period during the last hour of the school day.

And then I checked Twitter.

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I did not know until this afternoon that PBS News Hour hosts a regular chat, #NewsHourChats – looks like they’re every other Friday, on a current events topic. Today the topic was “How political squabbles on social media stressed us out this year.

Goodness gracious, I was hooked from the get-go.

The topic is engaging for obvious reasons, but I was particularly enamored of Jon Keegan, who was serving as a panelist. He created a tool called Blue Feed, Red Feed that helps you visualize how “the other side” sees social media. The tool helped me understand an encounter I had earlier this month with a stranger at a Washington, D.C. hostel. Some of my family members were discussing current events over pancakes at the dining table, and the stranger joined in the conversation from a nearby computer desk, where she was checking news on Facebook. It was an uncomfortable encounter at the time, but looking back, I don’t feel as awkward about it. Though we parted still in disagreement, I found value in the interaction. (Though, my biggest take-away was the fact that my fourteen-year-old sister fact-checked headlines on her phone. Sibling pride!)

Anyway, the Blue Feed, Red Feed tool made me realize that this person was seeing very different items coming up in their news feed than I was. Not only that, but they were coming from sources she trusted completely — sources I had never heard of, because I am on the other end of the political spectrum. I realized that I had created a Facebook echo chamber, so I made a point starting then not to block or unfollow people for not sharing my politics. I even made a point of friending people with different perspectives: I had a disagreement with a friend of a friend when our mutual acquaintance posted about Colin Kaepernick and his protest of the national anthem. But I felt we disagreed with mutual respect, so I sent a friend request, stating outright that I needed to see more diverse opinions on my feed. They accepted my request for much the same reason.

Twitter is different for me, because I use Twitter very differently than I use Facebook. I use Facebook to interact with people I already know I like. On Twitter, I usually interact with strangers who happen to have things in common with me — an interest in education, an interest in technology, an interest in technology education. I have experienced harassment on both Twitter and Facebook. The difference was, on Twitter it came from an egg I found easy to ignore; on Facebook it was a relative who posted partisan memes on my wall until I changed my settings. Therefore, I found the experience on Facebook much more jarring, but I acknowledge that my experience is not universal.

Since the chat this afternoon, I’ve had some time to collect and condense my thoughts, and strangely I keep going back to our school district’s “Aviator Profile,” a list of characteristics we hope to foster in our students:

  1. Communicators: Ask thoughtful questions, listen well and are able to clearly and concisely express their thoughts and ideas.
  2. Collaborators: Are able to compromise and work with people of all personality types and backgrounds to reach a common goal.
  3. Critical Thinkers: Have the ability to analyze and assess complex problems or situations and produce logical conclusions or solutions.
  4. Creative Innovators: Use imaginative and unique ideas to develop more efficient and effective methods of problem solving.
  5. Caring Citizens: Have selfless attitudes and strive to build stronger communities through civic pride, volunteerism and community involvement.
  6. Courageous Risk Takers: Are not afraid to take chances in order to accomplish something greater or facilitate change, whether it involves their career, finances, personal life or society.

I like how the first thing listed under “Communicator” is “ask thoughtful questions,” because questioning is an important part of communicating. And “listen well” is also listed before expressing one’s own ideas. We also often bring up in meetings that we, as the adults, need to model being “courageous risk takers;” whoever leads the meeting reminds us that confronting harsh realities and feeling discomfort is often part of the process. Of course, overcoming that discomfort to work as collaborators and think critically is part of the process, too!

And it applies so well to politics and policy. Regardless of who wins and who loses on November 8, we all are going to have to figure out a way to keep working together for our country’s present and future. We’re going to have different points of view and we’re going to have disagreements. We can’t shy away from that. We have to work together in spite of it. We have to work together because of it.

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