Twitter…the great equalizer?

In preparation for this week’s class we were asked to give some thought the following questions:

“Given public, unstable nature of our digital identities, Palfrey and Gasser (2008) note that our identities are now shaped in large part by “intentional digital contributions” such as blogs, YouTube videos, or social networking profiles (pg.23).  However, due to gaps in technology access, inequalities arise around who can make such positive contributions; those without access are often less able to control their digital footprints through intentional contributions and therefore rely on what others say about them online. This becomes increasingly problematic as society becomes more and more critical of digital footprints. Who gets to control their own identity?  How does our society’s increased focus on the need for a positive digital identity contribute to the digital divide and to social inequality?  How do we move away from digital identity as the notion of a permanent record and move towards cultivating a culture of forgiveness?

I wanted to find an article that could make some connections to digital citizenship as well as Twitter, both topic pertinent to my major digital project.  The article that I will be summarizing is “Tweet Up? Examining Twitter’s Impact on Social Capital and Digital Citizenship in Higher Education by Danielle Morgan Acosta. This article draws in all of those aspects as well helps to shed some insight into the questions posed for the week.

Acosta argues that “Twitter is quite possibly one of the most accessible venues of communication currently available.” (pg 10)  In fact in the United States alone Twitter has over 17 million registered users.  We all know that Twitter is popular and I would even venture to say that we could guess the age group of the majority of those users.  Generally speaking it is what we have come to call “Generation Y” the 18-35 year olds. Many of which are using Twitter on a daily basis to send and receive information to friends, complete strangers or even connect with interest based groups or communities to share ideas.   For my major digital project we are using Twitter to explore the idea of citizenship and share some of the ways that we can contribute, even though my students are too young to vote. Having used Twitter personally for about 2 years now, I realize that it is quick and accessible way to make my voice heard, whether it is connecting over ideas around education or tweeting a local radio station.  Twitter gives its users a voice and access like never before to the people we want to hear our message.  I have used it in my classroom as well as personally to try and make connections with others in a forum that previously would have been less accessible.

Photo Credit: bi0xid via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: bi0xid via Compfight cc

Interestingly, Acosta shares a study which found that historically marginalized groups in the U.S. such as women, black and Latinos, us social media and particularly Twitter, at higher levels than their male or white counterparts.  She concluded that new technology such as Twitter are allowing these populations to find a voice and they are taking advantage of the opportunity to connect.  Some of the factors that have contributed to the increase of use, center on the idea of accessibility.  Twitter is easily accessible because it doesn’t really require a computer to participate.  More complicated social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace are more difficult to fully manage from your mobile device, Twitter is easily used.  “Twitter allows users to connect to anyone or anything regardless of location, socioeconomic status, or other typical barriers.  …users choose whom to follow, ultimately creating new structures of information sources and communities for themselves.” (pg 11)  Twitter is more about sharing and contributing to a message; rather than creating a space for one’s self.

Photo Credit: aquopshilton via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: aquopshilton via Compfight cc

The article also discusses that participation on Twitter could help participants gain social capital by helping to expand social networks, bringing more historically marginalized groups into the conversation. (pg 12)  Acosta even suggests that Twitter could potentially serve to combat digital inequality by providing digital capital to rural communities, allowing for connections, networking, and learning, which could create social capital. (pg 12)  In my digital project, as a rural school, we have already made some connections to other city schools as well have followers that we never would have connected with, until we put our ideas out there.

Also in the article it discusses teaching students, in this case, university students about the potential for connections but also a need to educate Twitter users on the digital presence and persona judged through tweets and other forms of digital communication.   Acosta mentions Ribble’s Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship outlining ultimately that digital citizenship is “how to act and participate in digital technology.”   I would argue that there is a need for this education long before students reach post-secondary education.  Reflecting back to the questions for a moment, if we want students to be aware of their digital footprints and the lasting effect those can have we have to educate them sooner rather than later.  For many, waiting to post-secondary or even high school might result in damage already irreversible.  In some cases a digital identity is formed for kids today before they really have any control over it themselves.

Photo Credit: sean dreilinger via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: sean dreilinger via Compfight cc

I think this is especially important considering the author said that many of the users of Twitter might not have as much experience with other social media formats.  The author points out that access to Twitter is prevalent, but education and instruction on it is not.  If we want students to be successful and benefit by gaining social capital, we have to help them realize the potential.   As educators we know that social media participation is happening, but have to start to think about how to use it better to our advantage.  Acosta mentions a professor in Texas who uses Twitter for class discussions, finding that students who may not regularly participate in class engaged via Twitter.  (pg 16)

The article did make me reflect on one aspect of my digital project that I think I need to improve.  I don’t think that I’m really giving enough attention to the aspect of “conversation” in Twitter.  I think my project needs to incorporate more elements of student engaging with what others are posting to bring more of a “conversation” element rather than just a “posting” feel.  Acosta points out that students who are participating using Twitter feel a greater sense of belonging, but without having students engage with what others are posting, I’m really missing an important element to the conversation.

In conclusion I felt I like the article really gave me some things to reflect on, but also helped me to realize that there is a great deal of potential still to be gained through the use of social media sites like Twitter in the classroom.  Students today have more access than ever before, but there is still much to be done to help them to realize some of the possibilities and connections for even greater success.

Acosta, D. M. (2014). Tweet up? Examining twitter’s impact on social capital and digital citizenship in higher education. About Campus, 18(6), 10-17. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1651853286?accountid=13480

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