Social media was the solution

Focusing on the social aspect of social media, assistant professor of English, Aimée Morrison gave a lecture on the ever-expanding field of digital communication at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Uptown Waterloo.

Her lecture was hosted in part of Arts at 50, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the faculty of arts at the University of Waterloo.

“Someday soon it will not seem weird to put your Twitter account on your business card,” said Morrison.

Discussing different trends in social media, Morrison used the examples such as the It Gets Better Project, mommy bloggers, Rate My Professors.com and Facebook. In speaking about these lines of communication, privacy became the common theme.

Referring to the attitude of the corporate agencies behind social websites such as Facebook as one of “privacy is dead and get over it,” Morrison compared that to the “human culture first ethic” of humanists, liberals and social conservatives.

Analyzing the privacy debate, Morrison said, “By focusing on privacy we miss some points,” specifically speaking towards the fact that “appropriate privacy practices are fundamentally local.”

Beginning with the It Gets Better Project launched by writer and media pundit Dan Savage, Morrison highlighted how social media can be a form of a social movement to create positive change. The campaign, in light of several American youth who committed suicide in recent months after being bullied about their sexual orientation, displays video clips contributed by supporters of the cause to let LGBT youth know that life does get better.

“It’s almost uncomfortably personal,” said Morrison, referring to what individuals share in the videos, including past experiences of being bullied to better times of meeting their spouses and adopting children.

“Here, privacy was the problem,” she said, addressing the taboo culture of discussing intimate relationships and sexuality, “social media was the solution.”

Turning away from an open expression of identity online, Morrison investigated the double lives of mommy bloggers, who write about their experiences as new mothers while maintaining the privacy of their family.

She said that unlike the videos posted on It Gets Better where contributors honestly identify themselves, “[mommy bloggers] keep these identities in a silo separate from their everyday work identity.”

The concern for one’s professional reputation online was addressed first by looking at Rate My Professors.com, the online site where students can anonymously post comments about their professors, ranging from the interest level of their courses to their appearance. “[Students] look at my ass when I turn to write on the board and they write about that,” she said, expressing any teacher’s fear of what their students think of them.

But looking at the site more objectively, Morrison said, “Teaching, after all, is not supposed to be about my feelings.” Rather than viewing the comments on the forum as defamatory, Morrison treated the remarks as those students — as herself admittedly used to be one of — would make at the campus pub and professors should not take to heart.

Finally looking at Facebook and the trend among young teens to disregard privacy settings or be concerned about the future implications, Morrison said, “they are all acting like dumbasses.” Her point was not to question the maturity of those “too young to legally sign contracts,” but that their actions are acceptable within their culture.

“Adolescent stupidity is not a hanging offence,” she said.

“What looks like a technical problem all comes down to people,” Morrison added, reiterating that social norms within groups defines what is public and private, and that norms change between generations and cultures.

Despite the difference in social attitudes and actions from one culture to another, she noted one universal truth: “There’s something terribly attractive about information about other people.”

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