By Dr. Ed Hastings,
Scholar in Residence, ISSCD
I have to admit, I have not had a high opinion of social media. It has seemed to me to be fraught with self-promotion, narcissism and voyeurism. Then, when I heard about the case of The Philadelphia Eagles’ running back LeSean McCoy’s antics on Twitter, it just cemented my judgment.
Through the use of Twitter, his character (or lack thereof), was revealed this past week. He criticized the mother of his son for having sex with him before he even knew her name, without any apparent awareness that this makes him equally sleazy. He accused her of lying about being on birth control, without any apparent awareness that a man is equally responsible. He then called on his 122,000 Twitter followers to join him in insulting the woman – and they did. This was all public, there for anyone to see and respond to. This is the bad of Twitter’s instant, unvetted communication.
I am an Eagles fan, and I have been a LeSean McCoy fan. However, this revelation on Twitter and McCoy’s character is difficult to admire. He comes across as an entitled, arrogant athlete who feels the world revolves around his needs and wants. Is this the image he wants to offer for his son to follow?
I’ve just returned from a conference at the Dalton Institute on College Student Values. The title of the conference this year was “Character in an Age of Self-Promotion: Exploring the Role of Social Media on College Student Development.” Essentially, most of the conference can be summarized by this question: How can social media be used in a way that promotes reflection, character development and even contemplation? Why is this question so crucial? It is because many, if not all, of today’s young people are into social media… big time. Is it possible to find a way that use of Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc. will promote critical thinking, spiritual development and emotional maturity?
We had a college president speaking to us about this: Dr. Kent Smith from Langston University in Oklahoma. He said that he used Twitter a lot to communicate with the students. He mentioned that email communication is dying or dead and that if we are going to be where the students are, we will need to find ways to use Twitter and other new media. He said, and I agree, “Twitter is here to stay, so we had better get used to it. We need to find ways to connect with the young people.”
Suggestions were offered by presenters, keynote speakers, college administrators and the students themselves. Thought provoking questions, inspiring quotes for students to read, respond to, ponder were some creative responses. Presenters called their followers on Twitter to retweet and comment upon thoughts presented. The interesting thing about Twitter is that it is limited to 140 characters, so it must be quick and succinct.
After this experience in Florida, my appreciation for Twitter and social media has changed a bit. I now see that even though social media can be used to expose the negative, it can also be used for the good. I believe social media is not inherently evil. We need to creatively respond and find ways to use it well. Even if we run the risk of people like LeSean McCoy using it for the negative.