Social Justice Activism in the Digital Space

17039310_1202455816540800_1423831378427276039_oTwitter recently has added a new feature, where you can mute any account that doesn’t have verified profile information, like a photo, phone number or email address. This feature is particularly helpful for activists on Twitter. If you’ve ever tweeted about social justice issues, GamerGate, Trump, or any other political issues, you’d likely have come across an egg troll account that is specifically made to harass people.

This feature comes in particularly handy over the past few days, since I’ve tweeted about a counter-protest that’s happening in Toronto’s City Hall to unite against islamophobia. My Twitter account was mobbed by White Canadian nationalists. They were attacking me and writing about my activism on Twitter. This makes me feel very afraid for my own safety, and more importantly the safety of my family. 

The fact is the US Muslim ban and the new US administration’s anti-Islam rhetoric is rippling over to Canada. And this hatred and bigotry is beginning to show Canada’s racist roots that still need to be treated.

I spoke to a representative from Amnesty International last week. And they advised me on not crossing the US border at this time for my own safety. Muslims are being detained, mistreated, and harassed on Canadian soil. This is real, and non of this is “fake” news.

If you’re a social justice activist, or you want to get into this work, my biggest advice to you is to take care of yourself, first and foremost. I have my Twitter account now locked, because the harassment and abuse is very intolerable. And no one should have to go through this. I also suggest you take appropriate measures to communicate through private messaging apps. I was introduced to Signal actually by the Amnesty International representative, and quickly learned that several of my fellow news editors use it to communicate about their work. Here is a great article from Teen Vogue about how to keep your messages private.

Here are a list of things to think about if you’re an activist in the digital space:

  • Take good care of yourself: Know when to take a break from it all, and give yourself time to focus on you, your mental and physical well-being. This is the most important thing to consider.
  • Make sure you are connected with a supportive network: Having people to reach out to who know this work and how to handle difficult situations can be so helpful to keep you going in this line of work. 
  • Communicate using private messaging apps when organizing: Signal and Whatsapp are just a few examples.
  • Block and report: do not engage with trolls. Use the block and report options liberally. 
  • Don’t be discouraged: You are making a difference.

Despite what racists want me to do, I will be attending today’s protest at City Hall with many other organizations uniting against anti-Islam groups that are currently on the rise in our country. What they want, is for us to be fearful and silent. But they will not win.

Social Media & Digital Citizenship 

A recent article on The New York Times discussed the “Unspoken Rules Kids Create for Instagram“. The article focused on how kids (middle school, and some high school) had unwritten rules on ways they engage on social media. For example, what types of images to post, how often, etc.

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Common Sense Consus, 2016.

The one thing that stood out to me was how these rules were known amongst kids themselves, and actually had to be explained to the adults. We as adults, sometimes have the perception that kids don’t understand what it means to engage in a responsible way online. The rise of digital awareness and even being cognizant of cyberbullying issues in today’s youth could be as a result of the education that kids are receiving about digital literacy.

 

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Common Sense Media Census: Plugged in parents of tweens and teens. 2016.

However, I do think it’s also as a result of technology serving to be a great communication tool that allows kids to have access to social media, where they can see issues like bullying, prejudice, racism, sexism etc, being heavily covered.

Of course parents play a huge part in helping to raise the kids’ awareness of positive digital engagement and self-representation online. A recent study by Common Sense Census found that parents overwhelmingly have a positive attitude towards the use of technology and social media as tools to improve kids’ education and their development of important social skills.

Parents agreed that technology positively supports their children with schoolwork and education (94 percent). Parents also felt that technology can support their children by supporting them in learning new skills (88 percent) and preparing them for 21st-century jobs (89 percent). Parents agreed that technology increases their children’s exposure to other cultures (77 percent), allows for the expression of their children’s personal opinions and beliefs (75 percent), supports their children’s creativity (79 percent), and allows their children to find and interact with others who have similar interests (69 percent). Only 54 percent of parents felt that technology supports their children’s social skills.

This is interesting, because it suggests that parents *do* see the importance of technology and the impact it can have on teaching and learning.

However, the study also found that those parents who are concerned about their kids’ social media/technology use were less aware of their kids’ activities on devices/online.

What does this all mean?

It means several things:

  • The more parents/guardians talk and discuss the use of devices and social media with their kids, the more their kids use the “rules of engagement” on social media.
  • Discussing digital literacy and social media use in the classroom and schools helps students.
  • We have to trust kids once they’re given all our own “rules of engagement” on social media. They ultimately will make the right decision.
  • Talk to kids more. Ask them questions about what they do on social media, why do they do it…Questions should be judgement free…and kids will only open up if they do feel it’s safe to open up.
  • Do not underestimate the power of modelling! The study found that parents on average spend up to 9 hours of screen time everyday! Holy cow. If we want our kids to detach from their devices for a bit, it has to start with us.

So when it comes to social media and rules of engagement, kids are basically figuring out ways to better communicate with each other. To them, and this should also apply to adults, there is no difference between online and real life. Their actions online should replicate their actions in real life. From an educator’s perspective, it’s important to see that many students have already come to this understanding themselves. Then it doesn’t become a conversation about “digital citizenship”, it becomes a conversation about what it means to be a “good citizen/human”.

 

 

How to Grow your Social Media Community

_sfjhrpzjhs-nasaA little while ago, a large publishing company consulted with me to get advice on how to engage their audience and build interest-based communities. 

Here is a snapshot of the framework I presented to them.

Your social media’s growth cycles are incremental to exponential, it embodies ripple effects to create organic growth cycles. These cycles form from your campaigns, publications, and projects.

What are these cycles?

Empower voices — Amplify voices — Engage voices.

Empower voices

Editors create opportunities for smart domain experts to create content on publications as writers. This empowers both parties’ voices as leaders.

What kind of voices do we empower? publication editors, current active writers, domain experts, thought leaders, external writers/editors/journalists, educators, students, budding writers, great ideas.

  1. Who are some of the people who would be interested in working on your platform?
  2. What kind of interest do they have?
  3. What domain do they belong to, if any?
  4. How can they help to support growth and development of communities/publications?
  5. How are they perceived in their community? Credibility/reputation/status/charisma etc…
  6. How can we leverage their support?
  7. Are there any risks involved in leveraging their support?

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Social Media and Student Communication Skills

commun-alrubail-smcommunicationskillsThis post was originally published on Edutopia.

With social media taking up such a large space in our lives, many of us question whether it’s impacting our communication skills, more importantly, our students’ communication skills. As an English teacher, a writer, and a mom, I am always worried about the repercussions social media will have on my kids’ critical thinking, writing and personal & academic communication skills.

But I had to pause and think. We worry about social media’s impact, but “impact” itself doesn’t necessarily mean negative impact. I needed to remind myself that the use of social media by students can either have a positive or negative effect.

But what if we focus on and drive the positive impact that social media can have on student communication?

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Storytelling with Instagram

There is no question or doubt that social media is impacting students’ communication in and out of the classroom. However, it’s up to us to make sure that this impact has positive implications. As an English teacher, I love using tools that my students use to show them a different way of using it. Not necessarily better, just different, and for a different purpose. Students use social media for personal reasons. We can show them how to use these same tools professionally.

Sometimes using the same digital tools that students use helps to bridge the gap of communication. When students see that this tool can be used effectively to communicate a narrative, story or point of view, they will begin to see the power of social media and its potential to impact their lives and the lives of others in a positive manner.

I like to use Instagram to show students the power of storytelling. It’s a great tool to foster creativity, critical thinking, and personal expression.

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