Monday, February 8, 2010

Think Before You Tweet...

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.


  1. Well thought out and articulated my fellow educator!!!

  2. Kudos to you Steven! I watched some of your 'discussion' in my periphery on Twitter last week, and have a fairly good understanding of what happened. I think there are numerous valuable lessons that we can all take away (and teach our kids).

    1st: Twitter, with it's 140 character limit, is just that -- limiting. Sometimes, the extra 'stuff' that we would normally include to clarify our intentions has to be stripped away.

    2nd: Never jump to conclusions. As in the case with the original creator(s) of a question for your TwitPoll, they seemed to have been too quick to judge and lash out when a simple DM or courteous twitter message for further clarification would have sufficed.

    3rd (and most importantly from my view): Tone is incredibly hard to "read", whether it's that of a tweet, an email or a facebook message. Sarcasm and anger are especially hard to express via the written word and therefore should be sent with much caution. Again, not jumping to conclusions before reacting is crucial to civil content on the Internet.

    Thank you for sharing some great insights into Netiquette. I really appreciate the time you take to coordinate #edchats and always look forward to the new discussions each week! Keep up the fantastic work :)

  3. I have learned a great deal about the power of reflection, simply by comsuming the #edchat discussion on Twitter. Thank you for your contributions. I learn from you daily, and am thankful for your dedication as well!

  4. I want to say THANK YOU for summing up your thoughts.

    I followed the discussion a bit and thought that one person really was upset -- perhaps rightly so -- but really needed to step away from the keyboard.

    And I am glad you did just that.

    I am finding, with twitter, that when correcting someone -- it is always best to use a DM first or take the time to look for their email -- to send them your thoughts.

    Would that same person have confronted you face to face in a group of 30 of your peers? Perhaps, not sure. But a kind, fellow educator, who knows that they themselves are not perfect, would hopefully have pulled you aside first with a "can we talk."

    I am glad you learned a bit -- and I am glad you shared even more.

    Keep up the good work. You are helping us all become better at what we are trying so hard to be good at.


  5. I was disturbed by what was going on and today threw out a few quotes of what we as educators should continue to aspire to. I also asked if we could all be kinder and to understand that to "err is human."

    This concept (to err is human)is the biggest thing we can teach our students.We are all human and make mistakes (failing forward, Maxwell) by taking risks. Risks and mistakes enable learning to take place.

    In fact, the tech is sent out via human agency, so one way or another, mistakes can happen and that's okay.

    We need to teach students and others in our midst to be good community members, be flexible and mainly, be accepting of one another and all of the differences that make us unique.

    This was a teachable moment for everyone. So, continue to put great things out there.


  6. I, too, have followed some of the conversation surrounding this situation and felt that perhaps some of the parties involved needed to take a step back. I even typed up a reply to one comment I found completely unprofessional and childish. I never sent that comment because I thought that I should take a step back and try to find out what was really happening. I've always dealt with student situations with the following philosophy: There are always 3 sides to every story: Side A, Side B, and the truth.

    Thank you for your work with #EdChat. I have ony been following for 2 weeks, but felt like my professional development in the domain of technology integration has grown exponentially in these two weeks.

  7. I have followed and read your tweets for many months now. I am constantly amazed by the quality, sincerity, and professionalism displayed in those comments. I follow many educational technology professionals and I consider you one of the top ten that I follow. I have learned so much from you and appreciate the information you have shared. It makes me quite sad and disappointed to hear that another educator has spoken so hurtfully to someone who has shared so much with us. Please keep up your good work!

    Christine Longe
    Educator in Wisconsin

  8. Well said. I know that when I am typing my left hand goes faster than my right and there are always typos.I also know that spell check will not pick up mistakes especially the from and form. I know how you feel about spelling. Sometimes you feel downright silly when you reread back over your tweets and find that there are mistakes galore and you are an educator. But rest assured there are many of us whose keyboards let us down. Don't they know how to spell properly yet :)
    I find that putting in the little emoticons helps with the tone of what is being said as well.
    You do a great job, I have learnt heaps from you in the last couple of months.

  9. I watched with a bit of "shock and awe" as the entire conversation unfolded on Twitter. I must admit that my first thought was to NOT engage - as those who did only seemed to upset the one or two people who were initially upset which made the situation worse.
    I appreciate all the work that you do to support #edchat and although the times now conflict for me to fully participate - I follow them along using Twitter search and have added some great new folks to my PLN.
    Thank you for your honest reflection here and for continuing to model appropriate social networking practice!

  10. Steve this was a very good post. I must have been in a coma because although I follow you on twitter I was pretty oblivious to what was going on. Although I did think something was up with some of the tweets re twitter courtesy.
    I do wish the person had sent you an email or a DM so that you could have explained your side and they could have articulated their concern privately.
    I have had one or two twitter oops! One was when a fairly well known politician tweeted something favorable about the census. I was excited about the possibilities of using the census site in the classroom but when I went to the site the map was mislabeled. I was really annoyed that the US Govt. put up something with sloppy mistakes (and while I understand that we all make mistakes this was an "official" site and I really thought someone should have done a little more editing esp. since the census bureau themselves were touting it as educational). Well I DMed back to the person that some "genius" obviously hadn't paid attention in geography class. That was really harsh and this person didn't need to hear this. A min. later this person sent out a tweet with a quote about people who criticize are fools (can't remember the exact quote but that was the gist!) Ouch! Maybe I took it way too personally but felt that with the timing it was directed at me. But at least no one else saw my integrity or intent questioned.
    Glad you are moving on. Hope you realize how much but I andd others gain from your tweets. I wish that I lived closer so that I could collaborate with you more in person.
    Regards, and btw we may actually get some snow on Tues. night!

  11. Wow! Thank you for a bit of honesty in a sometimes dishonest world! Being a teacher is always hard but being a leader is challenging. Thanks for sharing.

  12. When I first started using Twitter - I searched for a reason to continue with it. I wanted more than just a 'social' network - I wanted a 'learning' network. When I participated in my first #edchat - I became energized. There is so much that educators across the world have in common and can learn from each other. I've always believed that being an educator means being open-minded and listening - and I'm proud to say - I've seen that in my PLN!
    Thank you for continuing to do what you do!
    We're better for it!

  13. 140 characters does make for a difficult discussion on any topic. It makes me sad to see people publically humiliate, deface, or lambast others that they have never actually met. Social media can make us way to comfortable thinking that we know someone else's character without knowing anything about the other person. I thank you for your hard work, I thank you for continuing the conversation, and I thank you for not continuing in on the drama and escalating the situation by engaging in it. It is hard not to jump in and defend ourselves, and stoop to a lower level. Well done.

  14. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter. I, too, followed the conversation and was so disturbed by the tone that I felt was being used that I chose to unfollow those who had crossed a line in my book. That's the nice thing about Twitter--you can disengage from those you feel are not treating yourself or others with common courtesy and respect.

    I applaud you for not responding, and I thank you for your contributions to both #edchat and the education conversation at large.

  15. Thanks for the post- we are all human. Unfortunately some feel the need to criticize others because they have issues with their own self esteem and feed off of pointing out faults in others.
    You have risen above that.

  16. I am so thankful for all you contribute to the learning community. I do hope this incident doesn't discourage you at all (or at least not for long).

    Teachable moments from my point of view:
    - the fact that, as a social networking tool to engage (or in this case enrage) people, it works! There is a connectedness between us humans - our good points and bad - but very real.
    - consider the 'block user' button, even if it's just for a few hours. I know I blocked a particular user yesterday for a couple hours - and unblocked a couple hours later once the blood temperature went down a bit. There are too many great Tweople out there to be caught in any type of negativity in the group.
    - DMs only work if the person is following you - kind of too bad if one wants to take the convo offline
    - the limitations of 140 characters of text, and how different things (perceived racial comment and spelling error) can escalate hurt feelings differently. We almost need some type of signal from the group at large or individuals to intervene. Would that work? How about #STOP?

    I'm actually surprised that 'flaming Tweets' or 'Twit rage' doesn't happen more often, especially in #edchat where things get (wonderfully) emotionally charged. Great we can talk/debrief about it.

  17. Steven, those of us who have followed you long enough on Twitter would never have leaped to these erroneous conclusions about you! Be encouraged—your work is vital and valued, and you are appreciated for your dedication to it. Press on, my friend!

  18. Thank you for your post. I joined Twitter to learn from others - not to join a forum for some to degrade and insult. Sometimes taking the time to step back, helps put all in perspective. Keep up the good work.

  19. The entire incident was unfortunate and you handled it with poise. Your decision to change the question was probably not the best one but the tirade that followed was out of line. I follow the individuals involved as well as many members of #edchat and felt strangely caught in the middle as I watched this spin out of control. Thank you for taking the time to reflect as opposed to reacting with more anger. You are a class act.

  20. I watched a presentation recently that talked about conflict in the workplace and about how we should assume goodwill in working with others. I try to remind myself of this when dealing with others, esp. when hurt or disappointed by words or actions. In the real world, it is courteous and common practice to deal with someone directly before you do so publicly if you have a problem with something that they say or do. I don't know what it is about the virtual sphere that makes us think that we can bypass this sequence. I've primarily been an observer so far (it takes me a while to get into things) but I appreciate the work that you do with edchat and I'm sorry that you had this experience.

  21. Steven,
    You are appreciated for your work with #edchat beyond what you can imagine, and I completely second what Kevin said above.

    The hardest thing one can do is not respond when being yelled at and you managed it beautifully. Often the other person is not ready to hear what is being said to them anyway, and waiting is definitely the smart move. I, too, lived that struggle last night, and was glad I stayed out.

    Take care and center on the tremendous outpouring of support both you and EdChat have.

  22. Hi Steven, I have been a member of this community long enough to trust you and your instincts implicitly. It is unfortunate that you would be unfairly attacked for exercising your judgement in posting the choices for the weekly ed chat. I think you have done an awesome job and I would like to express my deepest gratitude for your service to our community. In my opinion, there are two or three people above reproach in our group and you are one of them!

  23. Turning the situation into a learning one for all of us was most valuable.
    It may save some of us and our students from a sad situation like you found yourself in.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!!

  24. And to think that I missed all of this.. How could that be? I could have thrown a really bad pun in the midst and lost some more followers.

    Keep up the good work anyway, I wouldn't throw stones at you as I am least qualified. I enjoy reading #edchat conversations, I have only gotten home early enough for one session. If you stopped working with what is obiviously a good team, twitter teachers would be the ones to lose.

  25. Hello Steven.

    We've not met, but it would be nice to one day. Your reply suggests you are worthy of meeting.

    First of all, thanks for adding the context necessary for me to make sense of the tweets I observed yesterday. It makes sense now. Sorry you had to experience that.

    Secondly, thanks to Danny Maas for sharing the tips to help deal with and/or avoid Tweet Rage. Sad that we have to do that, but understandable.

    Thirdly, I read a book once titled Leadership and Self Deception. From your patient and articulate reply about meaning, I'm thinking you either read it or wrote it yourself. There is no value in judging. Well put.

    Finally, I'd like to add that I'm relatively new to the Twitosphere. #edchat is the realization of all that I could have hoped this experience could be. Please keep up the good work, it is appreciated (along with that of your colleagues in arms) by many.

    And should we one day disagree? I am sure it will be with the same level of respect as when we agree.



  26. Oh my! So sorry you had to go through this. Please keep up the good work for #edchat

  27. Thank you and all you do in your work for all of us working together for change in education. I am appreciative of your dedication and professionalism along with the reminder that we can't retract our words once posted. We must be mindful of the power of 140 characters. Thank you again.

  28. Wow, this really generated a lot of comment. I agree that we must "think before we tweet" however, if anyone has participated in an #edchat you know there is time to think-but not much time! I agree with the way you handled what you feel was your mistake. I prefer to think of it as a learning experience. And I guess i am pretty naive to expect that we are all here to learn from one another.
    I also hesitate to criticize anyone who reacts or overreacts unless I know where that person is coming from.
    My only disagreement is with your last sentence about saying the "right" thing. I wouldn't want my students, friends, colleagues or anyone to watch their words so carefully, because they might be "wrong" or misinterpreted. Reading is contextual and will never be truly interpreted the way the author originally intended.
    So think-but don't be afraid to express yourself-before you tweet!

  29. You handled it well. I tweet a pun a day which I make up myself, but it's hard to get a point across in 140 characters. (In fact I have to do it in 119 to allow it to fit into a retweet!)

    If that means the joke doesn't work I won't use it in Twitter, and that's fine as it's my own material. But in your case you had to act quickly to try to do someone a favour and it backfired because of their own stupidity. I'm glad you didn't slump to their level.

  30. Very well articulated. I'm not sure of the age range and education level of the majority of your followers (or readers of this post), but I sincerely wish more folks my age (22) and even younger would think about this. I know some of them do, but I feel it is very few, so definitely important to share with students, as well as colleagues and members of one's PLN.

    Thanks again for the post. Already Retweeted it.

  31. Steven

    I learned this lesson myself a few months ago when I created an Tweeted that poll about #edchat and Google Wave. Once it was out, it was impossible to pull back. I have to say that you and the other #edchat creators were very kind and did not hold a grudge even though I inadvertently created a lot of turmoil. Thanks for taking the high road, and rest assured that there are many of us who have come to rely on you as a resource and friend, even though we have never met you. Keep up the good work!

  32. Well handled, Steven, and a good idea to be open about it and move on.

    I am actually astonished about the jab re your spelling! I am not astonished about the fact that there are narrow minded people too out there.

    But you get what you give out in the end - that's the name of the game.

    I am also very pleased so many people, including myself, are behind you.

    That alone should say something.

  33. I got a stomachache for you just reading this--you were basically cyberbullied by an adult who should know better, who should know the rules of netiquette. I love reading your posts and tweets so keep them coming. You have many supporters.

  34. Dear Steven,

    I missed the conversation you mentioned here but I totally agree with you about amazing beneficial effect of Twitter on my teaching and learning behaviours.I know your struggle for better teaching environment and teaching styles.So keep doing this great work because you helped us and will be helping..


  35. Hi Steven,
    I may not always agree with what you have to say, but I always respect what you have to say.

    ...and...I didn't realize spelling counted on Twitter. I assumed it didn't. B4 I txt on Twitter agn I'll mk sure I check it first.

  36. Hi Steven,

    I saw your link on TwitterTips. I'm not a regular reader but I will be now. I'm also an educator who frequently uses social media in my classroom and to communicate to a wider audience at other times.

    I didn't experience your situation but you certainly handled the situation like a true pro.

    Kudos to you for taking the high road. I hope you continue sharing great information the world needs you and more people like you.

    all the best,

  37. Your level of dedication and professionalism has never ceased to inspire me. My mom always said, "You can't please everyone..." and she's right. A lot is lost 'in the translation', so to speak, of the spoken and written word. we all make mistakes, but when its done publicly, it can be even more upsetting. Your response, taking the 'high road' is just another example of the kind of leadership you inspire. thank you!

  38. Steven,
    I followed the entire conversation last week and I have never been so incredibly disappointed in people who call themselves professionals. I have seen inappropriate comments on Twitter before, but they have never been aimed directly at other educators. What was said to you and the others at Edchat was uncalled for and I unfollowed the instigators. Thanks for all you do. I cannot wait to meet you in June!