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Other reasons why I've been quiet.

September 15, 2014

My friend and colleague-in-blogs Melissa Dalgleish just wrote a great piece Silenced by Fear and Doubt: Blogging in the #Altac. I think she encapsulates some of the issues I was writing around in my last post on not being as productive a blogger as I have been in the past. It’s not just that my immediate supervisor reads my blog and follows me on Twitter, it’s that it also seems to be open season (again, or still, depending on your view or position) on academics on Twitter and social media.

As I was writing my last blog post on not writing as much, I received a campus-wide email from General Council reminding us of our responsibilities, as State employees, during the upcoming election cycle, where we have a hotly contested races in both senate and congress. No campaigning, which, fair enough. But it’s the fifth edict concerning social media that starts to get a little uncomfortable for me:

Social media (Myspace, Facebook, Twitter accounts, etc.) sites that are created and/or maintained by, or for, University units must avoid anything that might be considered as political campaigning. Social media accounts that are strictly personal —in your personal name and maintained personally by you from your home computer or personal laptop —may be used to express your personal political beliefs and may be used to engage in political campaigning. If you maintain a "professional" (non-UK) social media account, and use it routinely for UK-related activities such as communicating with students, you should also avoid anything that might be considered as political campaigning. Whether or not you can engage in political campaigning on a social media site that is your "professional" site depends on the extent to which your professional site is intermingled with your University position and work.

Of course, members of the University community who provide public commentary, as subject-matter experts, on political campaigns, issues and events are free to do so.

As everyone who reads this blog knows, I can’t vote here in the States because of my citizenship (I am Canadian), and I rarely talk about politics on social media for this reason. As someone who can’t vote, other than imploring people to actually vote, I don’t really feel comfortable commenting. But I might have also been not-so-subconsciously reacting to my contingency and performing some modicum of self-preservation.

But while I don’t campaign, I do comment on issues and events. The wording of that last caveat is really interesting, because it doesn’t say “faculty”, it says “university community.” I am a part of the university community as “staff” but does my role as staff qualify me to be a “subject-matter expert”? Not to mention that my “professional site” is more than definitely intermingled with my University position and my work; it’s a major reason I have the job that I do.

So if I have been quiet on a lot of the major issues that have been going on lately, it’s because a) I feel that it is important to amplify voices that are most definitely more expert than I and b) a little bit of fear. The first concern is a result of not wanting to erase more relevant voices that might get lost, or to talk over them, or to mislead. The email I received articulates the…unease I always feel on social media and in this space. Am I “expert” enough? Am I enough of a member of the community? Is this too political? Supporting a political position, that also happens to be a position of a candidate, is that campaigning?

I’m constantly and continually working through these questions and issues. I understand that retweeting isn’t enough, but I am always trying to negotiate where the line is. How can I use what little agency and privilege that I have, within the current limitations of the modern university and my position within it? There are no easy answers. If I am quiet, sometimes I am listening, sometimes I am amplifying, but other times, I am stuck trying to figure out how to write what I want to; often I’ll refuse to compromise, so then I just won’t write at all. 

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Lee Skallerup Bessette

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