Saying no to fun: putting social media in its place

Dave Webster @davewebster and Lucy Cadbury @lucychat2010
University of Gloucestershire


On one hand, we can utilise Social Media as a pedagogic tool in the teaching of a wide range of subjects. Easy to overdo the light tone here – but given the way Social Media has worked as much in the service of power as a tool for its toppling, we need to both be wary of over-hyped claims about its levelling impact and of treating it in such a way as to trivialise Social Media, or conspire with traditional media in presenting it as peripheral to, or incidental to, political discourse, news reporting and opinion forming. This is not a laughing matter.

  • Speak to women who use on-line dating, and who see the way Reddit red-pill discourse, ‘negging’, and MRA social media has impacted young men and their attitudes.
  • Listen to American liberals whose President is elected on a wave of #MAGA hashtags, jokey memes, ‘Lock Her Up’ chants and who are looking at crowdfunding (over via platforms like GoFundMe) their family member’s cancer care.
  • Pay attention on Facebook, as it removes ‘offensive’ images of breastfeeding, while lies from groups like Britain First are shared and re-shared as fact, and post-Brexit hate crimes spike.
  • Ask Anita Sarkeesian, after her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games project led to death threats, rape threats, hacking of her sites, games designed where you get to beat her, and the revealing of her personal information

But so what? What can we do?

In fact, few groups can do more than educators. We made not have made this mess, but it falls to us to wade in here, mop (critical pedagogy) in hand. We want to facilitate a semi-structred conversation about:

  • Students need to shed to delusion that technology is neutral. Tools are not neutral. Tools make the world, and have a fundamental, reality-shaping role. The use of technology is neither ideologically nor epistemologically neutral. Tools, algorithms, IP issues and more need to be dragged from behind the velvet curtain, from the back office, into our classrooms.
  • Students’ appearance of fluency on one platform, should not mislead us. They are vulnerable, and often faking it as grown ups; let’s not fall for an outmoded claim of inverted hierarchy of ‘digital natives’ which relieves us of responsibility. This is urgent, and it is our problem
  • Our responsibility is to look at how technology use ripples outward, and to ensure we acknowledge and interrogate ideological positions that are carved into the operating models of EduTech, and ‘disruptive’ technology more broadly (we will look at the ‘Gig Economy’ as a case study).

Conclusion: Student digital capability without digital criticality is an educational disservice.