News | 11 Sep 2019

To Tweet or not to Tweet? That is the question!


You may remember the famous case of Justine Sacco, a Communications Director of the New York-based internet empire InterActive Corp who was dismissed from her job for having made a puerile tweet that linked Aids with race. She was about to embark on an eleven hour flight to Cape Town from London and decided before boarding the flight to tweet the following: Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m White. 

Within the next eleven hours, Sacco turned into a notorious Twitter superstar with the comment being retweeted over 2000 times and a hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet trending and encouraging a chorus of protesters to turn up at the airport in Cape Town to greet her. As she landed, she immediately realised the sensational drama she had created and deleted the tweet, then deleted her account but it was all too late.

Although Justine Sacco was incredibly apologetic after the event, the damage had been done and she lost her job, her friends and her credibility within the community. The example serves to highlight the impact an insensitive, offensive and inappropriate comment on social media can have on an individual’s life. It’s also reinforces the need to take responsibility for our behaviour and to think very carefully before we act or choose to post on social media.

Social media has overwhelming strengths such as the ability to connect with other people both locally and globally and it’s a great way of networking, staying in touch with friends who have relocated and engaging in positive civil, political and cultural debate and discussion. It’s an instant and easy form of communication and provides us with real-time news and information. It allows us to communicate and speak directly to celebrities and influential personalities about a whole range of interesting and pertinent topics. It’s a source of fun and enjoyment while also providing great opportunities for businesses, organisations, schools and industry to connect with their community, customers and potential client.

However,the negative is quite often how individuals choose to abuse social media and fail to apply it for good. There are some who use social media for bullying and making abusive statements about others. It can stifle the building of relationships and harm the reputation and integrity of others. There are many who use social media to make nasty and inappropriate comments against others. Our focus on character at Northholm is very much based on strong digital citizenship and advocating to our students that the use of social media should always be for good not evil.

The ‘Digital Age’ and global connections is a compelling transition in our history. There is great human potential in the changing landscape of our world and how we define human learning should be understood in the digital world. On one hand, we should be excited about the great potential in learning and the development of citizenship through social media, but at the same time we need to be concerned with the ways we squander it. At Northholm, we want our students to understand that they are accountable for their actions, their behaviour and any comments they make on social media forums. They need to think carefully before they post and recognise that the comments made can have disastrous consequences for their futures.

Preparing our youth to engage in respectful, thoughtful and insightful social media exchange is not just the right thing to do; it is essential in preparing them for the complex digital world in which we live.