Facebook is my primary social media outlet. As more of my students are gravitating to other platforms, though, I feel I should start to branch out. In the field, I primarily use social media to touch base with colleagues and to keep in contact with students. I have about 20 current and former students who I try to check in with each week, just to see how they’re doing and to let them know I’m thinking of them.
I didn’t realize what an impact that could have until I started working on Title IX cases. There’s a student I’ll call Rachel. Rachel was the first student whose sexual assault case I investigated. I used email and phone calls to keep her posted on the progress of her case. When her case closed, I didn’t feel right cutting off contact with her. I asked her if it would be okay if I kept in touch; she said she’d be fine with that and to use Facebook.
A year or so later, I was meeting with her about a project she was working on. I started to ask if my weekly contacts were at all intrusive, but couldn’t even finish the question. She cut me off and said, “Don’t ever stop sending them.” She told me that even if she didn’t respond, it was a regular, positive thing in her life that she knew she would have every week. She told me there had been times when she was going through difficulties in her recovery, with periods of severe depression and anxiety, and those regular contacts had helped her through some of them.
It’s easy to overlook the value and power of human contact, even if it happens through an electronic medium. It’s easy to figure we can’t help people without specific training. While I’m a huge supporter of professional counseling, that’s not what I’m talking about; there is help that only a trained professional can provide. However, any of us can remind people they matter, they’re special, and there are people who care about them, for no reason other than they care about them.
The flip side of social media is that a mix of factors, some inherent in the medium and some external, can lead to some horribly divisive and destructive interactions. Social media allows our id to take the wheel with few to no immediate consequences; the call-out culture online can offer intrinsic and external rewards. Our culture in the U.S. is very divided to begin with. With this mix of factors, disagreements yield flame wars, and thus (to borrow from Master Yoda), disagreements lead to anger, anger leads to hate, and we will NOT like where hate leads.
Overall, I think there’s far more good than bad with social media. I think it offers us a wonderfully diverse set of tools for sharing information, connecting with others, and reaching specific audiences. I think we’ll continue to change some of our practices to embrace it, and I think the medium itself will look far different 10 years from now.
Ten years ago, Myspace was the biggest social media site, with over 115 million unique visitors. A year later, Facebook came out; Myspace peaked the following year.
Ten years ago, Apple released the first iPhone. Now, smart phones are almost ubiquitous, and one study estimates 80% of social media time is via phone.
Who knows what social media will look like 10 years from now? A few things are certain: our students will have the same issues they have now, they will need us just as much as they do now, and social media will offer additional tools to reach them.