February 9, 2017

Verified and Fake: Identity, Fear and SLAM School

Category: Digital Citizenship
Truth Matters sign

The Paradox of Verification

A mundane media literacy concept specific to Twitter is the fact that the blue checkmark on individuals’ profiles means that they have been “verified.” Ostensibly, the statements funneled from such accounts could be trusted sources of information. However, as has been noted several years ago, a verified account and person behind it are not always one and the same.

nasa twitter sceenshotWhile there is a dizzying amount of swift policy change from the new Trump administration that makes me fret for the future of U.S. democracy, the quickly mounted resistance to his efforts have illustrated ingenuity and resilience in ways that allow me to remain hopeful. As government Twitter accounts are muzzled to present facts and to communicate critical issues to the public, myriad “alternative” and “rogue” accounts are reaching the public on behalf of organizations forced to tow an undemocratic line. While the NASA “verified” account remains active, @RogueNASA pushes the organization into political dialogue via the kinds of content it chooses to engage in. @RogueNASA is one of dozens of rogue accounts that sit parallel to “official” accounts.

As a public, the narrative of Trump’s limiting the National Park Service’s Twitter activity after critiquing the size of his inauguration crowd, is a clear narrative that describes why such accounts are important. Likewise, as climate change information has been removed form the White House’s website, the lessons of media literacy are increasingly complex. Specifically, educators — in addition to working toward addressing concerns of equity and solidarity with student populations that may feel attacked by Trump’s policies — must push to question:

  • In a moment when “rogue” and unverified Twitter accounts are shaping an online political narrative, how do we trust sources of information today?
  • With “alternative facts” and “fake news” functioning as labels within a bi-partisan feud, how do we teach credibility and discourse?
  • How do teachers discuss how such policies are tied to exclusion, capitalism, and broader neoliberal traditions of American power without getting fired?

Introducing SLAM School

The questions above are based on the real concerns I’ve heard from teaching colleagues in the past two weeks. Students of all ages are confused, scared, and uncertain. Teachers, too, are confused, scared, and uncertain. This is a moment for activism and a moment for entrenched engagement in the political task of teaching and learning in public schools.

As a co-founder of the Studies of Literacies and Multimedia (SLAM) Assembly within the National Council of Teachers of English, I’ve organized with current SLAM President, Robyn Seglem, and Vice President (and DML contributor) Nicole Mirra a bi-weekly webinar series to support teachers in our work as educators and as activists. On Feb. 8, we started hosting short (20-30 minute) classes on specific tools and strategies for teachers.

Inspired by the ingenuity of teachers and community members to quickly organize and respond as well as by the lasting legacy of Freedom Schools during the Civil Rights Movement, we see these webinars as a way for teachers to quickly prepare for the work in classrooms and beyond. These are sessions for utility: how to teach students to understand the landscape of Twitter; how to find and contact your congressional representatives; how to upload videos to online networks for dissemination.

All SLAM School sessions are free and links to join will be found at the SLAM’s homepage. The first session on organizing and communicating through Twitter took place Feb. 8. More SLAM school dates are as follows:

  • 2/23: How to Contact Legislators — 5 p.m. PST/8 p.m. EST
  • 3/7: Topic TBA — 3 p.m. PST/6 p.m. EST
  • 3/22: Topic TBA — 4 p.m. PST/7 p.m. EST

Dates will continue roughly every two weeks and will be announced at SLAM.education.

Links to attend SLAM School will be posted at SLAM.education and on the Twitter Hashtag #SLAMEdu. For more information about SLAM and to suggest topics for future SLAM School sessions, please visit slam.education.

I look forward to seeing you at SLAM School.

Banner image by Mimi Ko Cruz