The other day I noticed that a friend of mine had posted a complaint to a major supermarket on Facebook. It was a straightforward, no-nonsense complaint about the quality of goods she’d bought. The post appeared in my newsfeed and was posted directly to the shop’s timeline. It wasn’t rude or sarcastic. It wasn’t inflammatory. It was polite but curt. And I thought ‘Wow!’
The Power of Social Networking
It had never occurred to me before that social networking platforms are basically platforms for speech. I’m a bit behind here, I know. A few years ago my own daughter used Twitter to complain to a multi-branch optician about the service she’d received. She got an immediate reply and the matter was dealt with – she was only sixteen at the time and had already blown me away with levels of confidence I could only imagine at that age. Still, I didn’t get the point … which is that online communication is still communication, and has the potential of reaching many, many more people than traditional public speaking. So – is it the same?
I’m not talking here about the troll who hates, criticises, insults, harrasses and humiliiates from the comfort and anonymity of his/her armchair, or the bored individual that gets involved in a Facebook spat for the sake of it. I’m talking about those people for whom the idea of speaking out in front of an audience or exercising their voice in real-life situations is still a bridge too far, but for whom using this voice to express opinions, assert themselves or complain via an electronic medium is much more feasible. Should we be making more of this? Could using Social Media to exercise ‘pupil voice’ for instance be part of a ‘character education’ curriculum? The possibilities are endless …
If young people were encouraged to join a forum of their choice based on a topic they are interested in, imagine the benefits. Apart from expressing opinions and joining in discussions, they would be in a position to a) consider the opinions of others, b) respond to those opinions with reasoned discussion, c) observe disagreements between others and develop mediation skills, d) learn more about their chosen topic. With effective guidance, this could be an incredibly powerful way of preparing young people and adults for a world where confidence and being prepared to put yourself out there can pay massive dividends.
Speaking Publicly on Social Media
I realised whilst thinking about this that every time we post on Social Media we are ‘speaking’ publicly. Every time a post is shared it reaches out like tentacles – how many times have you noticed two of your Facebook friends – quite disconnected – share the same post? The power of Social Networking to transport ideas is limitless. And yes, I am aware of the downside … one less than favourable comment can have devastating effects. But this is another training ground for confidence building and developing the necessary skills to let those go.
What a great foundation for our voices to flourish and grow. What an opportunity.