Further thoughts on shaming schoolsAugust 10, 2016
I have been writing a series of posts about schools being publicly ‘shamed’ in the press and on social media.
- The Daily Mail is still shaming schools
- Don’t Twitter shame a school and call it a debate
- What’s it like for a school to be shamed? Part 1
- What’s it like for a school to be shamed? Part 2
- What’s it like for a school to be shamed? Part 3
The last three posts were pretty much just descriptive, explaining what being shamed is like, but controversy has followed them. The most common responses have been:
- Arguing over what counts as a ‘shaming’ or ‘witch hunt’ rather than legitimate debate or criticism;
- Claiming I am attacking free speech;
- Deducing some implicit “rules of conduct” from my posts and then objecting to them.
I will respond to these points here.
My choice of the word “shaming” was largely a result of listening to and reading several interviews with Jon Ronson after he wrote a book on the subject of online shamings (which I haven’t yet read). I think the term “shaming” is entirely appropriate for the situation where there is large scale disapproval by thousands of individuals aimed at one, or a small number, of individuals. It’s not how I’d describe any and all criticism of anyone, but if the targets are few; the rage great, and the numbers joining in are large, then it really is not a debate and I think this is a fair way to describe it.
As for the other term, I’ve blogged about Twitter “witch-hunts” before. This phrase is the best way I know of describing a situation where accusations are thrown about, but the targets of the accusation either cannot defend themselves (for instance if they have been forced off of social media) or if any defence will be considered to confirm the original accusation or justify new ones.
Both terms describe a situation where there is no debate, little regard for context or opportunity for mitigation, just anger being directed at individuals who have limited scope for doing anything about it. Because these situations, force people off of social media denying them free speech, I really don’t feel that suggesting we all try to avoid creating such situations is an attack on free speech; it’s an attempt to protect it.
Finally, have I implicitly set rules for how people should behave?
To be fair, I think my views on the journalism that has started some of these ‘shamings’ are clear. I would want journalists to avoid the following:
- reporting the views of a minimal number of disgruntled parents (often just one) as “news” about a school;
- naming individuals, particularly children, where it is not in the public interest;
- one-sided and biased reporting;
However, I don’t propose any mechanism to enforce any of this. I’m just saying I’d expect journalists with any integrity to try to avoid those things.
But when it comes to how people should behave on social media, I really can’t think of any hard and fast rules. I am the last person on earth to advocate refusing to criticise schools. I am also hardly likely to suggest that social media is not a good way to whistle blow when things are going on in schools that the public should be aware of. But I do not think a hate campaign achieves anything other than to silence debate. And, at the very least, we can all consider the possible consequences of criticising.
In my next post I will discuss what we might want to consider before criticising a school or a teacher on social media.