Dealing with the Twitter-verse in the Times of Trump
Over the Holidays I took a break from reading the news and blogging (the Holiday posts were written in advance), and so I missed the opportunity to comment on Inside Higher Ed’s original story regarding a satirical tweet by George Ciccariello-Maher, Associate Professor of politics and global studies at Drexel University, that read: “All I want for Christmas is white genocide”. Given Mr. Ciccariello-Maher’s writings on this topic, those in his intended audience recognized the post as satire. But Drexel’s original reaction was forceful and devoid of that realization:
“Drexel became aware today of Associate Professor George Ciccariello-Maher’s inflammatory tweet, which was posted on his personal Twitter account on Dec. 24, 2016. While the university recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing and do not in any way reflect the values of the university. The university is taking this situation very seriously. We contacted Ciccariello-Maher today to arrange a meeting to discuss this matter in detail.”
As reported in Insider Higher Ed Drexel University has since softened it’s approach to Mr. Ciccariello-Maher’s tweet, offering a lengthier and far more thoughtful response that includes this paragraph:
Very often electronic forms of communication (Twitter, in particular) are limited in their ability to communicate satire, irony and context, especially when referencing a horror like genocide. While Professor Ciccariello-Maher has defended his comments as satire, the wide range of reactions to his tweets suggests that his intentions were not adequately conveyed. These responses underscore the importance of choosing one’s words thoughtfully and exercising appropriate judgment in light of the inherent limitations presented by communications on social media.
My tweets are limited to the titles of my blog posts… primarily because I have come to appreciate the fact that Twitter has an extremely limited ability “…to communicate satire, irony and context“. In my verbal communication I often find myself using satire and irony to inject humor into an otherwise grim situation. But in verbal communication I am able to literally empty a wink and a nudge— or at the very least a shrug of the shoulders and an eye roll— to convey my true intent in sharing.
But Drexel’s predicament illustrates the complicated issues that arise when public social media is used to convey perspectives that are “…utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing and do not in any way reflect the values of the university (or school district)“. As a retired School Superintendent I can envision a situation where a conservative school board member might call to report that “one of my teachers” has posted a tweet that he or she found “…utterly reprehensible” and sought my support for that position by demanding a retraction. As one who handled discipline issues in high schools for six years I can envision a situation where a student reports that a classmate posted something that he or she found “…utterly reprehensible” and asked me to intervene to have the classmate remove that post. These are both situations I never had to face because social media was not as widespread when I was working as it is today, and the kinds of situations are stressful and ultimately irresolvable when personal perspectives on “reprehensibility” are in play.
Given the world we live in where the President elect uses social media without regard for the accuracy of his posts or their potential for inflammatory reactions it would be difficult to defend a punishment to a teacher or student who is equally tone deaf in their political postings. Now, more than ever, schools need to teach civility and… in the words of Drexel’s President, “…the importance of choosing one’s words thoughtfully and exercising appropriate judgment in light of the inherent limitations presented by communications on social media.” It is a far more important issue than anything in the common core.