During my time in university, I was constantly bombarded with professor after professor that instilled the fear of social media in us future educators. I remember time after time, sitting in a lecture hall and being told horror stories of a teacher who got reprimanded for having social media profile pictures that showed them with an alcoholic drink in their hand or teachers who were fired for posting their political stance online. At this point, I became apprehensive about using social media in any form. I started to private my accounts and delete anything and everything that I felt was unnecessary.
But this was hard for me. I am an active social media user and quite politically engaged. Now I was never outwardly stating my opinions online nor would I pick a fight with a comment section, but I had no problem sharing news, links, and stories that clearly demonstrated my political leaning. I understand that the university was trying to protect young educators like myself, but it did truly instill an unnecessary fear of the online world. Over time, however, and mostly as I became more comfortable with my position as a teacher, I began to rejoin the political world of social media.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, I began to become actively engaged with the political and social world of Twitter. It was during this time that I realized the massive impact social media activism can, and does, have on the world around us. It was during the Covid-19 lockdown that George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. I followed the events that were unfolding across the border and it became clear quite quickly that social media was a powerhouse for change as hashtags like #blacklivesmatter began to take off.
Three months of quarantine taught us to live online, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it was what we saw online that sent us back onto the streets. On May 25th, the circulation of video footage capturing George Floyd’s murder by four Minneapolis police officers quickly incited local protests. Three nights later, our feeds streamed with live images of protesters burning Minneapolis’s Third Police Precinct. In the course of June, uprisings expanded at unprecedented speed and scale—growing nationally and then internationally, leaving a series of now iconic images, videos, and exhortations in their wake. Every historic event has its ideal medium of documentation—the novel, the photograph, the television—and what we’re witnessing feels like an exceptionally “online” moment of social unrest. –
The mass social change that came from the killing of George Floyd was astronomical, and dare I say unprecedented. Millions upon millions of people were drawn to the streets through connections via social media to right the wrongs. Many argue that protests do nothing, but this is simply not true. The social media frenzy that was caused by the killing of George Floyd resulted in massive social change:
Of course, the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing social media frenzy was not perfect. One particular moment that was highly criticized at the time was #BlackoutTuesday. The movement gained immense traction with millions of people posting a black image on their social media in solitary for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. However, the issue with the movement was twofold: the hashtag drown out posts from the BLM movement and it was a form seen by many as a form of slacktivism. Over the last number of years, there has been a rise in performative action on social media with many critiquing others for only doing the bare minimum to elicit change. This performative activism was very much on display during the George Floyd movement and it shaped the opinions of many people as many saw this as a way for the privileged and white to wash their hands of what occurred.
Despite this, I truly believe that the change that came from the George Folyd movement was meaningful and worthwhile. Conversations on social media were centred around how to elicit change, end systematic racism, and how to reform deeply ingrained social institutions. From these conversations came systematic change not only in the United States but across the globe. And most importantly, it reminded people that change can happen when people come together.
Early on in my career, as I noted above, I was very hesitant to actively engage on social media in a political sense. But as I have grown in my place as an educator, I feel quite the opposite. It is from movements, like George Folyd, that it becomes clear that as an educator I have a unique position to influence social change. It is easy as educators to be worried that we are pushing the social boundary too far as much of our role is based on presenting a positive image to the public, but I do think that this image can include acknowledging our beliefs.
It takes just a few minutes on social media to see that teachers across the world are engaging with social media activism in a positive and constructive manner:
Activism is not a choice for teachers. It is a way of life.Decision to decision. We become activists in teachers' lounges, IEP meetings, data conferences, and educational gatherings. Activism is both protest and protection. #AntiracistUDL https://t.co/ZImlqNAZPy
— Andratesha Fritzgerald (she/her) (@FritzTesha) September 2, 2020
I predict that the Rainbow 🏳️🌈Tent at the Saskatoon Children's Festival is going to be very busy. 2SLGBTQ students deserve to feel safe and included at school and in our community. Bigotry – especially coming from a publicly funded school system – is totally unacceptable.
— Trudy Keil (@trudykeil) May 26, 2023
Five Native and Indigenous Media to Watch instead of football this weekend. #DisruptTexts
— Tricia Ebarvia (she/her) (@triciaebarvia) November 25, 2022
Preparing to disrupt Romeo and Juliet with @JasonReynolds83' Long Way Down. What is the line (is there a line?) between grief and anger? How are our choices shaped by the people around us? How and when do we break cycles? What do love and grief look like in action? #disrupttexts pic.twitter.com/WWKtBdJvtO
— Sarah A Honore (@TeachWithHonore) December 19, 2022
Teachers hold a unique place in the public eye, but that place should be used to elicit positive social change for all students.
Interested in discussing social media activism in class? Learning for Justice has a great introductory lesson to the topic.
Can online social media activism be meaningful and worthwhile? Is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online? What is our responsibility as educators to model active citizenship online?