Must We Teach Social Media Etiquette?

In 2013, can you imagine if people were to suddenly call for etiquette training in our schools? I’m not talking about all the ‘top 10 ways to act on twitter’ tropes out there. I’m saying: what if we were to develop a curriculum for dinner table manners, or shoe removal tendencies, or Times When You Should Hold The Door Open For Someone?

I know, in your head you’re secretly thinking, “Actually, that’s a fantastic idea! Kids today…”

But you’d probably also concede that there may be bigger, less… problematic fish to fry inside our education machine. And that, if you were to make such a workshop proposal for your next education conference, it might not get accepted.

So, why, then, are we so obsessed with teaching social media etiquette? What does it even mean? According to whose standards? Based on which culture?

via Edudemic:
via Edudemic:

If it would be ridiculous to suggest that there is one proper way to eat a meal, then why do we seek one standard etiquette for social media speak? If we cannot feel confident telling all students to bow to their elders in a heterogenous culture, then why the one rule for an RT?

There are so many complex variables in teaching or integrating social media into education environments. Not the least of these include privacy concerns, pedagogical dilemmas, and technological considerations. It befuddles me, then, that we should spend so much time wringing our hands about what I observe as a comparatively less pressing issue, so-called social media etiquette. Furthermore, I’ve been wondering whether I’m the only person out there who is flummoxed when such a thing is presented as a type of literacy. Are etiquette and manners literacies? Well, perhaps they are literacies if you also want to call being a wine aficionado a brand of literacy, or suggest that I am highly literate in the social norms of a BBQ Ribfest. But perhaps a more accurate descriptor for this would be cultural capital. And, yes, it can be learnt and taught, but must we?

Do we really want:

  • A fixed, homogenous notion of what is appropriate?
  • To teach students how we think they should dialogue in these ever evolving spaces?
  • Everyone to tweet or Instagram or Plus (see Google, you can’t use it as a verb!) like they’re answering stock questions at a job interview?
  • Reluctant, self-conscious users to avoid posting because they can’t bear breaking ‘netiquette’, feeling like every utterance will be scrutinized with a proverbial teacher’s red pen?

Do we need social media spaces full of good manners, or do we want savvy, authentic, critical thinkers who constantly reshape, rethink, and redirect its purpose?

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  1. says

    I don’t think it’s unfair to expect both. The old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” should permeate all that you do. Just last night, my wife and I were leaving a restaurant and a gentleman was coming in. He opened the exit door (clearly marked) and walked in nearly hitting both of us as he did so. Did he not see us? No. He clearly made eye contact as he rudely came through.

    Imagine if he was coming in for an interview and did the same thing to the person who was doing the interview? Imagine being online and showing a side for profanity or rudeness to others and it comes to the attention of a potential employer? I can go on forever.

    I don’t have an issue with any of the points in the graphic that’s embedded in your post. They may not all be golden but I think that it serves as a starting point for students to think about “who” they want to be online.

    Ultimately, they’ll make the final decision on “who” they’ll be but I would suggest that it’s a failing on the part of the teacher to not address it and have certain expectations if you’re taking a class online. For many, this will be the launchpad to a bigger social media presence.

    As an aside, I personally unfollow/mute people that I find offensive. There are far more interesting people with which to engage.

  2. says

    I don’t think that teaching social media etiquette runs contrary to developing “savvy, authentic, critical thinkers who constantly reshape, rethink, and redirect its purpose.” On the contrary, understanding social media etiquette and the importance of self-reflecting before posting allows students to engage with social media in a thoughtful and critical way. The permanent nature of what is posted online makes if critically important that students understand the potential ramifications of what they post, for good and bad. An offhanded discussion that at one time was limited to the immediate circle of the participants can now be permanently immortalized online for all the world to see. Whether for good or bad, all social media users (including adults) need to understand this.

  3. says

    While I am not of the belief that there is just one singular way to teach social media etiquette, it is something that can and should be taught. When using twitter and blogs with my third graders they were engaged in critical thinking each time they posted. They had to ask questions such as: who will read this, is what I’m writing of interest to others, does my word choice create the impact I want, will my words provoke thought or offend, etc. Social media etiquette is less about thanking every person who replies to your post and more about realizing there are people on the other side of the computer (or mobile device). An essential reality to have mastered long before entering the workforce and firing off a grossly inappropriate email to colleagues.

  4. says

    Why do we spend so much time separating our behaviour in real vs. online spaces? I understand they’re different (space that is) but our understanding of our cultural norms shouldn’t be. Yes, I used the word “shouldn’t” and I’ll expand on that in a bit. Having been around digital media and communication over the past 15 years, there’s other aspects that I feel are generally lacking when in comes to social media spaces and etiquette isn’t one of them. I spend much of my time with my students learning about the ever-evolving mechanisms of social media. Rarely do I spend time on the “ought imperatives” we impart on our young people in just about every second of their lives. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important. It’s just that this cultural indoctrination is an on-going process anyway. Understanding the mechanisms of online spaces is far more effective in my experience and suits my target audience (teens). Awareness of the distinctions between a hand-written note passed in class (even when the passer gets to read the message) and its difference from the exponential nature of a tweet, Facebook wall post or a Snapchat message is critical. In class, we look at case studies and discuss them in both real and online spaces (such as our forum). The conventions they employ and their approach in discussing issues have been relatively consistent through the skills they learned from their on-going indoctrination (how to speak, respond accordingly, etc). You might say they’re like that because of an adult-moderated space such as my class site. I get that. However, at what point do we trust them and remove the virtual “training wheel”? I understand that there’s a lot of “bad stuff” going on out there. I understand that they need to be addressed. I understand there’s a lot of adults shaking their heads in disbelief (of their perceived accelerated degradation of values and basic human decency thanks to technology and social media misuse). However, we are not falling behind in the propagation of cultural norms. We are way behind in understanding the tools and how to use them. In this regard, our understanding of cultural norms and our behaviour SHOULDN’T differ regardless of space (because we understand and make no distinction between them). As for the occasional rude person that fails to hold the door for us, they will continue to exist regardless of the conditioning measures we put in place. That’s just life. Citing instances like that in this argument is hardly indicative of where we think “we’re going towards” as far as social media is concerned.


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