4 Nov 2012

How should schools deal with social media?

In this post I use 'social media' and 'social networking' pretty much interchangeably, I understand that this isn't entirely accurate, but I really am not quite sure of the distinction and for the purposes of this post I don't think it really matters.I also state that I'm paranoid, but that's because I
In hindsight, I think I may have jumped the gun with my last post, with that gun quite possibly being wielded by the shark, although I could've sworn I jumped that years ago (well, whenever I discovered The Activists Publication). Time will tell if I metaphorically got shot in the arse because of it. I probably need to nip the leaping to conclusions/ slight paranoia thing in the bud*, but I guess I included that disclaimer for a reason.

I realise now that I might not have been clear about what exactly I was for or against. Just so we're clear, I'm not saying that it's all hunky dory for students to actively bully teachers, or to make a pattern of it, but I am saying that it's pretty creepy for schools to trawl through social networking profiles to find this stuff. In either case any teachers who are on the receiving end do have the right to respond how they wish. I also happen to think I don't really deserve to be expelled, and haven't (to my knowledge, someone else will probably be able to give me examples) really posted anything that objectionable about my teachers, it's the trawling our feeds thing which scares me. I understand that Twitter's public, but it's sort of compartmentalised separately to reality for me.

With that out of the way, this all does raises the question of how schools should deal with social media in general. It's pretty clear that we need clear guidelines about what's acceptable (and what isn't), and these guidelines need to be openly available, but at the same time we aren't total idiots. My school has technically engaged a bit with a twitter feed, which makes it a bit odd that it wasn't mentioned at all in the assembly (I don't follow it as LissyNumber, but it's there), and I reckon that as far as this is concerned that's enough. Maybe the principal should get an 'official' account but that's it. Obviously, there may also be issues with tweeting teachers, but I don't actually go round actively looking for their accounts since as far as I'm concerned it's none of my beeswax.

Back on to the guidelines thing (stellar idea organisation, as always, going on here), I have to agree with @Puffles2010's Best Friend's suggestion that the guidelines be formed (at least in part) by the school council, probably working in conjunction with teachers.That said, I have a hunch that any suggestions would end up boiling down to Wheaton's law (i.e. 'don't be a dick'), 'don't post nudes' and probably 'be careful'. Chances are it might also be worth including a note about not constantly saying where you're going, but that might just be my slight paranoia.

Other than that, it's a pity that the school has a censored internet (which is also being switched over and is pretty eratic - at one point it actually briefly blocked a Google search for anything. ) since chances are it would be interesting to get us to search for our own names and see what comes up. I'm not sure where we'd find time to do that though, and maybe a lesson isn't the place to do it.

Another option may be lessons on how public profiles could be used to our own benefit (if employers can spot the bad stuff we post, surely it could be possible to put the good stuff out there too, right?**), but this is rather cynical as it will probably involve encouraging the formation of alter egos which strikes me slightly as deception, as will cynically trying to boost online reputation (I'd prefer to look good by actually being good). Not that it's stopped me from creating an alt very recently though, albeit more because I recognise that being a libertarian socialist might not go down to well. You can't be too careful anymore, I guess. Maybe there could be some sort of 'a students' guide to twitter' or something as well, but I really can't see that being received well (admittedly, I am also considering making it). I think there is a problem that we're growing up with social media, but it's growing up with us too, this means that until it becomes established it can be hard to react to stuff.

Basically though, the whole thing is this huge dilemma. on the one hand, abusing teachers is obviously wrong (occasionally understandable, but wrong), but at the same time can it be argued that it's morally right to trawl through student's feeds. Social networking and the like is pretty much unprecedented, maybe being around for a decade, tops (before there was still internet, but it was far less tied in with your real identity this had both benefits and costs), which is an added complication - I'm a 'digital native' (hate that phrase), and relatively early in my adoption of twitter, but it's only really exploded in usage amongst my peers (for want of a better word - it makes me sound like one of those 30 something social media experts or something) in the past year or so - how do you prepare?

Anyway, I'm rambling so I'd best wrap this thing up.
  • I'm probably over-reacting to that assembly
  • Being a dick is still, well, being a dick
  • Abusing teachers is bad, but so's trawling through twitter feeds
  • Schools clearly need some sort of social networking policy (actually, props to @missnfrancised for making this point), and there does need to be some education outside of slightly scary assemblies.
  • But, to use a Facebook turn of phrase, it's complicated. (any ideas?)
  • Also, I'm apparently turning into one of those 'social media expert' types. Admittedly I should have known this the moment I started referring to it as 'social media'. Also, I'm a hypocrite, but you knew that one already.

*Actually, the paranoia has improved a bit. I'm fairly certain at one stage I was terrified that the government would arrest anyone who disagreed even once in dawn raids a-la the Shock Doctrine  (which, as an aside, I really need to do a retrospective on. Hmm...) any day now. I no longer think the government wants to kill me, I just think that they don't care. This is both a relief and slightly soul destroying at the same time.

** I am aware that this may slightly contradict part of the point of my last post. Oops.

2 Nov 2012

"You never know when a future employer might read it..."

 Disclaimer: I may very well be reading too much into things here. In fact, I hope I am.

My school may or may not be reading my twitter feed. At least according to an assembly we've had today. Whilst I'm not going to lie and say that I wasn't slightly crapping myself at the prospect of them publicly bringing up my personal feed (a prospect they considered, apparently), and the idea of my school directly connecting my feed with me. Which also means I've Orwelled information in blogs that will probably identify me to them and pretty much no one else. This is actually one of the only (if not the only) time I've actively retracted stuff without a notice edited into the blog post at the very least, but the posts themselves are still up.

This is weird, considering that I use a pseudonym and I'm pictorially represented by my pet dog, so chances are I'm not the target audience of an assembly which seemed to partially revolve around the impact of having stuff tied to your real identity (even if a Google for my real name brings up my Twitter followed by a ton of petitions. I intend to partially resolve this by actually getting another twitter with my real name attached) - not to mention that, whilst I very much doubt they'll approve of my politics (and the guy giving the assembly made a point of bringing up the twitter joke that I probably Spartacused back when), unless they happen to be a member of The Activists I don't think I've actually posted much of the stuff they intend to block. Well, um, until this blog post. More on this a bit later.

I guess this in a way is for the best in terms of my future, even if a part of me feels like just posting xkcd 137 instead of writing this*, it is where the title came from after all. In a way perhaps it is better to hide behind a veil of anonymity when saying something controversial, and having that option available is good. Being aware of what, exactly, people can find out from your name alone is probably a Good Thing. Heck, I managed to write two blogs on the subject of "why don't I write (more)?" literally yesterday (as of writing this), and I never mentioned this in them.

Admittedly I know for a fact I took completely the wrong message from this, the right message being "if you wouldn't say something in public (IRL public, to someone's face) don't say it all", but maybe freedom has to include the freedom to be a dick? Of course, it also includes the freedom to call out dick headery. Freedom is freedom to say 2 + 2 = 5, but it's also the freedom to point out that no, 2 + 2 = 4.

Of course, mathematical mistakes are not in the same league as being an arse and posting disparaging, possibly nasty things about people (and also bigotry, but it's my understanding that the former is what the issue amounts to - I may be wrong there (I don't think anyone in my school is that stupid though)). Including teachers. I don't really know what the tweet was which actually set it off (or tweets plural), and chances are tweeting it was at the very least a dick move. Plus, maybe bringing up issues with the school is the best move, and not, say, writing a rant about it and posting it online. In addition to this, y'know the stuff I mentioned about knowing that your name is attached to something? It is possible that the tweets, in addition to being hurtful, could be attached to someone, and that could bring up issues later on.

At the same time, this really raises a number of concerns for me - admittedly in part from the libertarianism which seems to be almost instinctual to me (at the same time as socialism, I really need to get round to writing that post one of these days).

For starters, the school has to actively seek this stuff out. Going off stuff in the assembly, it's certainly implied that whatever they found objectionable they found by searching for information on twitter posted by students - not about teachers (this distinction is pretty important in my eye, it's the difference between finding out what everyone's saying about you, and finding it out by finding out everything that everyone's said recently). In addition to this, quite often I don't think it's possible for anyone not connected with whoever's being tweeted about to figure out anything really, and you will probably have to actively try to figure out what's being referred to. Unless it's sustained, which is admittedly it's own set of issues. Any such attacks are likely to be brief too - and most importantly not premeditated. I get the sense that when someone posts a mean tweet it's fundamentally different to, say, setting up a hate group on Facebook (this is the closest analogy I can think of, and I can certainly understand some sort of disciplinary action if it's brought to the attention of the school (these groups are often private, so actively looking for them strikes me as a fundamental violation of privacy)), since the latter requires active effort whereas the former requires about 10 seconds max. In a way, the best analogy I can come up with is gossip, but gossip to a few hundred people (which, actually, if you only post personal stuff, will probably be predominantly the sorts who would be Facebook friends. Sure, it's publicly available, but chances are no one gives a crap about what some random teenager tweets as long as they have the wisdom not to send nasty stuff to, say, an Olympic diver). It's not pleasant, and if you're the subject of it I can't say I could really argue against calling out whoever does it, but it's hardly the criminal matter that the school is presenting it as.

There's also the presumption of 'if you have an issue you can bring it up to us' . It excludes the possibility that people just want to vent. Again, see my point about it being almost gossip. The intent was almost certainly dickish, but it was to vent it wasn't to cause harassment, distress or alarm.It's a way of yelling into a void that occassionally yells back. I know that's what I sometimes use twitter for.

Furthermore, this means that there's an implicit intent to shut down criticism of the school and/or teachers. Criticism which cannot be directly connected to the school in all likelyhood. I have honestly never been so nervous about posting something just because it's critical of something my school (which I have never named because Jesus Christ that's web security 101 stuff) has done, and I have a vague bit of anonymity. It could prevent discussion of legitimate grievances that we might not feel comfortable with taking to the school about yet, or maybe we feel like they might not listen which, logical or not, I reckon we are well within our rights to do. Also 'ugh, I hate <subject>. <teacher> is such a dick' is blatantly not an active criticism meriting actual action (unless it's endemic across all pupils), it's a comment. An inane comment, which fundamentally wouldn't have much of an effect after about 20 minutes. I'm not even talking in the figurative sense meaning 'a really short time'. I mean literally 20 minutes (okay, sometimes up to around an hour or so). It'll still be on record, but it'll already have expired. And maybe people care enough to comment, but not enough to want to change things? Or they're scared for other reasons. I've definitely vented stuff on twitter that I couldn't talk about elsewhere, and I don't really like this option being closed to me.

The plans that I think that assembly implied (the message was basically "now this has been brought to our attention, this is our only warning and if you've tweeted anything dodgy...") also fundamentally misunderstand the nature of social networking and media. People made a massive shift from Facebook to Twitter over the past year (interestingly the Facebook assembly was much more geared towards potential employers and less worried about complaints about teachers), and chances the sort of comments my school wants to shut down? they're gonna be moved to some other platform. The cycle repeats again, and they can't keep an eye on everything we post on social networking sites. Except that's what they're trying to do. Also, considering they know about the #TwitterJokeTrial, have they really also never heard of #IAmSpartacus?

Anyway, whilst posting dickish tweets about teachers is, well, dickish, stalking us is not the answer. Trying to censor it won't work. The warning that makes up the title of this post is valid (although frankly I find the idea of employers spying on their employees at least as scary, and dodgy ethically), and maybe we do need to be more privacy aware, but conflating that with not moaning isn't the way to do it.

I can't say I know how my school will react to this. Maybe they won't know? Maybe they actually won't care? Maybe I'll get kicked out? It's pretty ironic that I'm mainly hoping for the first one, but to be frank I can't see the use in hiding away, although it occurs to me that at the very least I will have to get my school council rep to ask about what our school's social media policy actually is. I don't want to hold back because I'm scared of shaking things up.

Fuck. That. Shit."
Yeah, I am so getting excluded for this. Life, it was nice having you in a relatively non-ruined state.

See also:
Basker's World: Sticks and Stones - this one is especially interesting given that Baskers was publicly hounded by the Mail for her tweets. I find it odd that she wasn't brought up as an example, but it perhaps goes to show that there is still a bit of ephemerality to the response to twitter.
A Latent Existence: 
A Shiny World: 
Jack of Kent (this guy was the lawyer in the Twitter Joke trial case which was cited):
Cracked: 5 Wacky Internet Pranks That Can Get You Jail Time

And a metric ton of other sites that I really am too tired to look for now.

There was also a lot of discussion about internet trolls about a year ago (which I actually find unbelievable no way has it really been that long?!), this post (and this section) is getting pretty bloated, and I think there is a bit of difference between what I'm talking about and actively sending stuff to whoever, but this New Statesman piece is probably a good start.

*I have to say I've read that one so much I actually remembered what number it was. Even if I sometimes thing it's 173, which is a cross reference from something completely different (and not actually a Weeping Angel rip off - it came out around the same time as the first ep with them in, EDIT: but slightly before, if I recall correctly).

1 Nov 2012

Why don't I write (more)? Part 2

So, earlier this evening I finally broke the four-month long hiatus that this blog has been mired in, and naturally it was a self-indulgent meta-blog (i.e. a blog about blogging). I never actually take the 'like ripping off a band aid'* attitude to things, but let's pretend I do since, whilst I do want to write about this sort of thing (otherwise I, er, wouldn't. Unless I somehow had to for school, but I can't see that ever happening), I want to make this pain as short lasting for you as possible.

Especially since, whilst I will at least try to relate things to the hiatus (well, gap in updates; 'hiatus' is really overstating things and implies that I had half-decent reasons for it (spoiler warning: I didn't)), a better name for this may very well turn out to be 'Why do I write?'.

At the same time, maybe analysing the reasons to write might be a better answer to the question of why I don't/didn't write more than my previous post, which is slightly on the descriptive, rather than the explanatory, side.

 Back on the meta discussion (rather than the meta meta), I suppose I'd best get the obligatory George Orwell link out of the way.

It's not a terrible essay. Actually, rereading it, it's pretty good (if amusingly borderline objectivist in places), and I can see why it's the go to reference for this sort of thing.

In addition to this, the four reasons Orwell listed pretty much sum up the reasons why I write. Welp, I guess this entire thing was stupid. Show's over guys.

Yeah, that was a pretty crappy fake out. Anyway, it sort of strikes me that the biggest reasons why I don't write more are much the same as the reasons cited as reasons to write (which are also the reasons I do write beyond school and getting my thought down somewhere):
  • Sheer egoism: Well, whilst the "desire to seem clever, to be talked about [for the right reasons], to be remembered after death [for good things], to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc" is pretty damn powerful, the desire not to seem stupid, not be talked about/remembered for the wrong things and not to prove those adults right can be at least as powerful. It all comes down to whether your main motivation in life is  desire for success or fear of failure and, whilst I have my own personal speculation as to the reasons for this, I definitely have come down on the latter side of the fence far too often. This is certainly a major factor in the large gaps between posts, and also the clustering of them (if I post 2 posts in a month, they're probably within a few days of each other, since I tend to get phases where my ego runs on high). I'd also reason that, whilst the political purpose is an element in this, there is also a duality between the desire to be agreed with and to be not disagreed with, both with regards to the propagation of your views.
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm: Actually, I'd say for most people (i.e. me) this is a major deterrent to writing - people (read: I) have a distinct fear that it won't turn out just right according to their (my) internal style guide, which may or may not be ever changing to 'not this'. I assume I must've turned it off or something. This also ties into why I decided to time these posts with NaNoWriMo starting - I figured it would get me into the right mindset (I'm not even taking part properly but, ironically, I'm more ahead than when I have taken part) - and it's certainly about turning off the 'inner editor' (i.e. aesthetic enthusiasm) which appears to act as a kill or cure type dealy. I'd say it's not even really a reason for writing, as much as a deterrent. But maybe I'm not really a writer.
  • Historical impulse: The desire to store the facts for posterity, for me at least, also leads to a bit of fear of getting them wrong and this mistake getting into the books as fact. 
  • Political purpose: This is a pretty strong reason for writing, and the hardest to fit into my 'also reasons not to write' thing, but when you consider how many things, even explicitly political, are taken out of context (see: the absurd amount of merch of a certain famous Maoist revolutionary for starters), maybe the fear of being misinterpreted will stop people speaking in the first place? (read: I am actually afraid of this happening despite me thinking of you guys as not being idiots). 
Ultimately, I have to say that all of these boil down to sheer egoism - in having a political purpose, one generally assumes that one is right and will be remembered, the historical impulse assumes a high profile either way, having an aesthetic enthusiasm also generally involves ensuring that you're remembered for the right reasons, and that when you finally pop up and say 'hello world' you will be remembered and therefore want everything to be perfect**. And by 'you' there, I obviously mean me.

Both of these things amount to having a massive ego, the only question being whether it's big enough to avoid collapsing into a black hole (or even a neutron star) and sucking everything in. More elegantly put (and therefore to quote someone else) "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure".

At the same time, and having written all these words about writing, I don't really view myself as a writer. I do enjoy writing, and I am blatantly writing something here (also, I do certainly slide into that sort of selfish 'I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will not live for the sake of another man, or ask him to live for me' attitude (which is definitely partially there) from time to time ("all writers are vain, selfish, and lazy"? Well, I can't claim to be an exception), but, at the same time, I lack the certainty at making it my life that Orwell hints at*** and the patience for long form work (I'd blame this on the Internet, but I get the sense that if I had sufficient determination it wouldn't be an issue. See: how much I've written today alone). In addition to this, the label is one of those which is connected with being as pretentious as hell, but, if that forms a part of my reason for my rejection of the label, there is certainly an element of non-hipster irony to it (speaking of hipsters, it's like how you can spot them by the person dissing hipsters (guess who that describes! (I even wear the bloody glasses!)). Furthermore, have I really written enough? I ain't so sure (although me even entertaining the notion of being called as such certainly shows that I have the massive ego Orwell describes.

Of course, maybe the biggest reason I don't write more is that I simply got into the habit of not writing? Actually, that is probably it, but I'm not going to let 2000 odd words of navel-gazing and introspection go down the crapper, especially since 1000 odd words of it are already here, online, and published. Plus, y'know, sheer egoism. Also, it's another crappy fakeout, but at the same time, I have to say it is a factor I really should have considered before.

PS. they appear to be down at the minute, but I've had a blog over on the tumblrs for longer than I've actually had this one (this started off basically as a place to put longer form posts that I didn't mind sticking around/want to lose track of, since tumblr can get really frickin' ephemeral in places, but this aim was swiftly lost in favour of wanting to be a Blogger (capitalisation for emphasis, not because it's the platform I use)), and I think I might start actual blogging on there too (most likely short form 'look at this Thing' ones, but with actual discussion), rather than just periodically posting/reblogging links. Also,  (EDIT 13/02/2013 HA HA HA HA nope. didn't happen) I actually fiddled around with my theme on here a few weeks back, and I have now fixed the issue of visited links looking identical to normal text.

*yes, 'band aid'. I know it should be 'plaster' since I'm British, but I spent/ wasted a large number of my formative years watching Friends (I think it may also be the only television series I've watched every episode of) and, well, here we are.
** Actually, writing that makes me wonder how common these traits are amongst programmers as well. I'm not the first to note the similarity between code and writing thoughA piece by the same author called Fear of Writing has also probably been an influence on these posts.
*** Well, at least I thought I did until writing that sentence and realising that holy crap I'm really enjoying this and huh, where'd that hour go?!

Why don't I write (more)?

As you may or, more likely, may not have noticed I haven't posted here for about 4 months. Not going to lie, I was actually pretty surprised that it's been that long. I literally only did the maths about 10 seconds ago as of writing this sentence (it'll be considerably longer by the time you read this, obviously. It'll be considerably longer as of the time this is published for starters).

This hasn't entirely been due to lack of ideas for blog posts. I have about 4 drafts in the working that were started after this date, and there are more than a few drafts before that (I have '108 posts' (well, probably 109 now) according to the old dashboard). Of course, I'm pretty sure there are a few duplicates and out dated posts in there (like a sequel to my royal wedding piece for the Jubilee - I figured it got beyond the point of parody when I noticed that a few official Things actually used a capitalised Her and they were organising a prayer of thanks (I'm not really sure where you go from that)), and many of these 'drafts' exist purely in the form of titles and/or paragraphs. I've not looked, but I'm fairly certain some of those aren't even opening paragraphs, and to be honest I'm guessing I forgot about them for a reason.

There have also been ideas for blog posts that I've not even considered starting. The biggest of these that I can think of is a defence of the police = drunken family member analogy that featured in this piece about the Andrew Mitchell thing. That one actually turned out to be just as well - it turns out I'd actually misread it and I'm confused at the lack of nuance in the article (like, really, we can dislike cops and Tories at the same time, we can side against both of them if we really want to). Furthermore the article seems to be stating that the police are not like drunken family members at all. Even though they totally are (I mean, people apologise for them regardless of how bad they are, they can be pretty damn abusive (and violent, but I've never experienced this part personally), can be openly bigoted (and loud about it), are slightly terrifying to be around and, frankly, are total dicks).

Leaving aside inspiration (and my actual non-lack thereof), I can't even cite lack of time as an excuse, well, I suppose now I've started A-levels . I probably can get away with it, but I had 2 months with pretty much nothing to do before that (ah the joys of study leave followed by school holidays), so yeah. Also, none of them are coursework based; I'm not suffering too much. Even if I'm supposed to do, like, 5 hours out of school work a week per subject*. Admittedly I think the having nothing to do basically caused low-level brain rot (I would suck in some conceptions of the socialist utopia), but whatever.

I think ultimately, my reasons come from a degree of all-or-nothing perfectionism, coupled with an anxiety over how things might be received - if nothing else I'm really self conscious about my lack of understanding of political theory (for starters I still don't know what the hell 'dialectics' means, beyond the definition of 'debate except with both sides trying to get to the truth', and I haven't even read the Communist Manifesto), and from what I can gather people are really big on that now?

 I'm also vaguely aware that I may end up expressing a Wrong Opinion (like how I don't think abortion at 36 weeks is okay (and I can't come up with a method which won't have impacts on the body similar to actually giving birth, so I don't think choice in that sense comes into it, even if it should arguably come above the rights of the baby) I think you can chose to have the baby before that point anyway)) and getting hounded out by people who I like. there's also the issue of me maybe possibly writing complete and utter horse shite - for starters, from what I can gather TV Tropes has declared my use of parentheses to be official Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma (even though they're brackets (go figure)), not that that's actually a major issue - which is also a definite factor, even though a few of my posts are honestly not that bad (I say a 'few' because I like to pretend a few don't exist, even if I won't go full Activists Publication and straight up delete them)

So those are the reasons for 4 months of the delay. There's been 4 days since that mark came and passed though, and that's actually for a whole other reason. I actually have been meaning to get back into the 'groove' as such as writing these things, and I figure doing it on the first day of an event dedicated to something pretty similar - i.e. National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo, even though it really is more IntNoWriMo), which basically has the aim of getting potential novellists to actually write, even if it's shite**, - is fitting.

I was thinking of adding a bit on the reasons why I decided to start, probably with a liberal number of links to pieces by other writers on the topic (okay, fine, a link to That Bloody George Orwell Piece), but this is running a bit long for my liking, so keep your eyes peeled for it (I will get it done, promise). Or don't. It's up to you really. What kind of libertarian would I be if I forced you into it, anyway?
EDIT: Here's part 2.

*Maybe be expecting a blog on this later. It might just be speaking as an outsider, but whoever calls Art and Design soft subjects (as in easy) must be on some other planet or something. I can't 100% rule out the possibility that my school's design department forces pupils to do extra, but why the hell would they do that? As for the 5 hours thing, I can't exactly figure out how to stretch doing maths exercises from the textbook to 5 hours, so I don't think that'll work (definitely not until we do calculus).

**I won when I was 13 and I still cringe at the memory of what I wrote (yes, past!me, having a Miley Cyrus song as your villain makes perfect sense </sarcasm>). That's all I ever intend to tell you, so don't bother asking for more (that preview makes it sound better than it was, although it probably speaks volumes about my self esteem that I actually hated my self-insert protagonist for being a whiny git). Also, note my wonderful (</sarcasm>) structure now? I actually think my sentence structuring and thought organisation skills were worse in that.