Social Media is a funny beast.
Sometimes it can be your best friend. Like finding that long lost high school BFF on Facebook or coming across that link that fits right into your lesson in the morning.
But sometimes it can be your worst enemy. Like it was for me recently.
I was misquoted, backhandedly called a racist and, in not so many words told that I might be the most unintelligent teacher around. And all of this happened, out in the open, in 140 Characters or less.
First, I made a mistake. If you don't know, I create the polls each week for #edchat. It is my job (of which I do because I love it and not for the pay, of which there is none) to gather all the questions submitted that week, pick 5 and Tweet out the poll. Last week I was given a question, via Direct Message. That question was included in this weeks poll. However the person (or persons) who submitted it were very displeased with the way it was worded. I took it upon myself to reword the question to fit more with the style that we have each week. Instead of contacting me personally or even respectfully I was backhandedly called a racist because I had changed a question dealing with achievement gap issues.
But it did not end there. I have never been a good speller. I have struggled with it my entire life. Thank goodness for spell check! I usually do a good job of going back on everything I do to look for errors and I usually catch them. However, because I am human, and sometimes I move to fast, I miss some. And that was the case with this same poll. I missed a misspelling. I was contacted by one person who pointed it out to me but felt bad for doing so. She should not have. I was a fool for not catching it. However, there were these same people from the question above, instead of contacting me directly, indirectly said that I had obviously failed as an educator and there was no way I could talk about improving education until I improved my own.
I had two choices.
I could stoop to their level. I could engage in their level of conversation, attempting to make right their misconceptions about me, standing up for myself, and standing up for the #edchat conversation I and so many have worked so tirelessly to promote and grow.
I could ask myself, what would I want my students to do? When they encounter a situation like this online with someone, what do I hope they do?
I did the later.
I took 24 hours...well almost 24 hours to think about things....
Yes, this conversation took place on Twitter right in the public stream where anyone could see it. It does not discourage me from using it or encouraging its use with educators and students. What this situation has taught me is that 140 Characters is hard. ( I actually knew that but it really hit home yesterday.)
If I send out a Tweet that is to a resource or a cool link, that is easy. I title it, insert the link and send. But if I am trying to engage in conversation and try to do it in Tweet style, that is a little more challenging. I have to slow down and think about what I am saying, what am I trying to mean. Sometimes meaning comes across crystal clear. Other times it is murky. And sometimes it can be utterly confusing and I have to eat my words.
Twitter is an amazing resource that opens the doors to educators to connect to others across the globe. What it does not do is convey feeling and meaning in our Tweets. Those can only be interpreted by those reading your Tweets.
I am not mad at what was said about me or that it wasn't said to me. I really can't be because I don't know meaning. Were those statements said with real meaning or in jest or with sarcasm? I simply do not know because still to this moment no one has contacted me attempt to work out a solution. And honestly, at this point, I dunno if contacting me would really do any good. (I know I am ready to move on. There are real challenges in education and this situation does nothing to move the change agenda forward.)
I plan to use this whole situation as a teachable moment, both with my students and my teachers who I talk to about Twitter. We all need to understand that when you make a connection with someone online they do not instantly know everything about you. A face-to-face conversation is much different than one that attempts to take place in 140 characters. So we need to make sure we are talking to students and adults about netiquette and not just what they do online but how they say things online.
Should I have changed the question from the original way it was submitted to me? Probably not and I will think twice before doing it again. And I will definitely be sure to run the ol' spell check before putting anything out there on the InterTubes again.
I just hope that everyone, including those involved in this situation, can, and will, regularly take a step back and ask themselves, honestly, and directly, am I saying the right thing, or could it be misinterpreted?
We are the best examples for our kids. And we need to make sure that we live up to their expectations.