Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tragedy and Social Media

by John T. Spencer

I first heard about the tragedy in Tucson, not from the CNN or Fox News, but from a direct message sent by a politically-active friend who was attending the Giffords gathering.  While the television news sputtered around trying to offer details (first claiming that she was already dead, because, you know, you have to be the first at something, right?), I found myself reading Google News, piecing together Facebook posts, e-mailing friends and reading Twitter updates.

I turned the television off when they kept repeating the same information, circling the same grocery store in their helicopter and all with the same peppy intonation they would use to announce the final score of the Suns game.  While I couldn't see the "expert witnesses," I could keep up on NPR's website and then ask medical questions to a friend of mine who is a trauma surgeon.

Meanwhile, I engaged in philosophical conversations about speech and freedom and safety.  I watched the tone turn ugly at times and I found myself caught up in it for awhile as well.  Yet, when we learned of the nine year old girl, it all changed.  It became sad, really sad.

So, I blogged.  I probably put things up too fast, but it's where I went.

Students messaged me asking if that was the same Gabrielle Giffords we had interviewed in class.  Others asked whether this was all part of the same racist, anti-government, white supremacist movement that seems to be growing in our state.  The minute they announced the suspect, I began searching Twitter (nothing there) and then YouTube, where I was able to see each of Loughner's videos.

Then I turned it off.  All of it.  I took a break from Twitter and from Facebook and from YouTube and Google News and Blogger and I walked outside and played baseball with my sons and we had dinner as a family and unlike the tragedy of the news, today felt real.  It didn't feel like I had simply watched a movie.

The process was messy, but I was a participant (albeit interspersed between games of Hide and Seek or water coloring).  Perhaps it's simply a throwback to the back porch.  However, I felt empowered to find sources, sift through information, ask questions and piece together a more complex story than the cyclical loop of CNN.  I made mistakes along the way (shaking my fist at Palin), but at least I had a voice.

So, how would I handle that in the classroom?

I wouldn't handle it.  I would grieve with the students and ask questions and we would blend social media and face-to-face conversation.  We would share - share our emotions, our thoughts, the information we find, the bias we see and together we would try to piece together the story and how it relates to our own.

Still, it's not something I could organize.  It's not something I could plan in advance.

Every child is social in different ways and every child will choose different methods of maneuvering social media.  What's important is that we have netbooks and access to social media.  My students are learning, not only how to maneuver it, but how to think critically about information as they use social media.


  1. Living overseas, once of the greatest things is never watching media news. I don't watch CNN, BBC or FOX.

    Like you I usually find stories through Twitter which will lead me on a search to find out details. I have sources I trust, most likely biased in my favor, but I try to balance them out.

    The only taste of corporate news I get is through John Stewart and Colbert, yes I know this is not healthy, but what they show me is scary enough that I know I would end up destroying my TV if i had to rely on those lunatics for any information.

    News is now in our hands, and we must help each other figure out out to negotiate what it means to each person. Things like facts and truth are much more mailable these days and like most things we come to a consensus socially.

  2. On Saturday we were babysitting our granddaughter where there is no tv in the house, nor do we have a tv in the tiny apartment in SF. Therefore, all of our news came via Facebook, twitter, and online media for the next two days. Finally, on Monday, I picked up a newspaper and I watched the nightly news. Except for some great interviews with people who had been at the shooting and helped out, I learned nothing new.

  3. Well said. Now if we can just convince our districts that 1:1 is a worthwhile investment, we could actually meet all that they're asking of us to be relevant, to differentiate, to be high-level, to teach critical thinking and problem solving. I don't know of a more convincing example than that which you have just articulated.

  4. Sometimes the world gets really ugly and this is one of those times.

  5. Very... Nicee... Blog.. I really appreciate it... Thanks..:-)

  6. I think why social media failed because This is not about you or your brand, it's about the relationship.


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