Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Socially Speaking...



Social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter offer each of us personally and organizationally a platform to champion something sincere that we believe others should or might also appreciate. This civil right shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

 Over the last decade we have watched our global society grasp the concept of utilizing their personal digital spaces like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to express their very specific individual – oftentimes political and religious – views. But more recently, I believe this digital liberation is leaving us with a societal predicament. The outcome of expression carries a deeper responsibility than some are willing to or have ever been taught to properly recognize.

The story isn't new: person doesn't like something or even worse someone; person posts content on the internet that says as much; person's comments offend, manipulate, and hurt anywhere from one person to millions of people. I believe it's the familiarity of this story that has created a sad sense of common complacency. 

Two teachers, one in Florida, and the other more recently in New Jersey have gained international media focus for posting their aggressive anti-LGBT and faith-based opinions on their Facebook and Twitter account. These accounts were clearly not secured enough to prevent from mass public viewing – a mass public that includes their students past, present and future.

The teacher from Florida, after having been temporarily side lined from his teaching duties while the school board investigated his actions, was eventually found to be within his civil rights. The school board declared that as long as his activity was within legal standing, they had no right to discipline him for actions that took place on his own time and in a public forum.

The case of the New Jersey teacher is still under investigation by the school board. However, Edward Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey, released the following statement:

“Although we do not agree with the sentiments expressed on Ms. Knox’s personal Facebook page, her beliefs and comments are protected by the First Amendment.” 

We will never know if these two teachers thought of their students before pressing the all-mighty "send" button. But that’s the very moment we should focus on. I can almost guarantee that it will forever alter the degree of comfort that should be required to extend to all students. LGBTQ students run a wide range of being “out”. Not all students have the capabilities or confidence to speak out about their discomfort of being educated by someone who has so openly displayed an aggressive distaste for a specific demographic.

Before we press the “Share” button – be it literal or the metaphorical – we must all ask ourselves:
  • Why am I am saying this?
  • Why am I saying this now?
  • Why am I choosing to use this forum to express this opinion?
  • What are the potential outcomes of my making this expression?
  • Who if anyone will be effected by my expression, directly or indirectly?
  • Do I care that it may affect them?
  • If I don’t care, why not?

It may seem silly to think: “Oh right, I should ask myself seven questions before updating my Facebook status”! As na├»ve as you perhaps consider this to be, the answer for all the right reasons is, yes you should.


By quickly thinking over these very simple questions before we engage in any type of communication, online or off, we are already avoiding countless volatile conflicts. 

This topic is extremely relevant to the diversity conversations we all should be having. Civil rights provide us with the right to speak our minds freely. But it’s up to us to learn the art of speaking freely appropriately.

“But I... never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it.”
 ~Mark Twain, 1879 speech

UPDATE 1/13/12: 

According to www.Towleroad.com:

"The Union Township School District has made its first steps toward firing her (Ms. Knox):
The Union Township school board has filed tenure charges against Viki Knox, the high school English teacher whose anti-gay remarks on Facebook raised a firestorm over her free speech rights and her role as a public school teacher.

The board formally filed the charges against Knox in late December, a step that begins the lengthy and costly process to fire Knox, school board president Ray Perkins said. He could not comment on the findings of the district's three-month investigation of Knox's conduct."
 

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