I’m a teacher, in my day job, no more, no less, and I run my social media sites as if they were classrooms. I view them, on a good day, as arenas of civil discourse where differences of opinion are encouraged, and where mutual respect for those differing opinions is rewarded. And if need be, enforced.
The reason for this is pretty simple: until we teach our students how to engage in productive dialogue, we cannot expect our country and its culture to develop in ways that benefit and support all of us.
I don’t see myself, however, as a teacher online. I go online to share information, to learn from others, and to develop stances that are informed by the best that has been thought and said on the subject that currently interests me. Because one of the subjects that concerns me now is gun-violence, and because gun-violence has been for some time a hot-button topic in our country, the conversations surrounding this subject are often heated.
Heat is fine; the abuse that often follows heat is not.
As in my classrooms, whenever we discuss contentious topics, I enforce codes of conduct. If we are going to move this country forward in regards to violence, then we must at least avoid violently, abusively offering our opinions as we explore our options.
I support civility, old-school. After all, our days are precious, and our time is short.
So it turns out that the standards for civil discussion that I use in my classrooms work equally well on my social media platforms. I have written elsewhere about revoking hall passes on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I thought, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I should post those standards. I don’t allow anyone to walk into my classrooms and begin unproductive or needlessly aggressive conversations, and I feel the same about my Facebook pages and my Twitter accounts. Failure to follow these guidelines will not only derail the national conversation that we are having about gun-violence, it will result in having your hall pass revoked. I also expect that if you find me in violation of these codes on your own platforms that you take similar actions against me.
- Do not assume that you know what I think. Ask. I will extend the same courtesy to you.
- Do not put words in my mouth, or opinions in my head, and then attack the positions that you have placed there. This is lame, and it results, of course, from not following Rule 1.
- Do not use profanity, do not call me degrading names, and do not threaten.
- In fact, do not bully or intimidate in any form—words, images, links.
The sooner all of us start to adhere to these four simple guidelines, the sooner our conversations will bear useful results. If they accomplish nothing else, these guidelines will expose those with whom discussion is unproductive and useless. And whose hall-passes need to be revoked.
Because, as I said, our days are precious and our time is short.