By Brad Waters
A small university in Northern Michigan made national news on February 2nd when school officials learned of a threat of violence against their students. The investigation has been ongoing but the university released a statement early on that someone had threatened to harm students on campus. Some reports also stated that the threat was posted on a blog, bringing the internet and social media again into the spotlight. The talk of modern technology rarely leaves the national discourse for long before another threat or violent act shocks us with its ties back to the internet. The Tucson shooting, only weeks ago, a prime example of a suspect who allegedly left a trail of behavioral peculiarities tracing back to YouTube and Myspace.
Naturally, the media will examine these events with every angle and hook that can possibly keep the story running. When social and online media are involved you can be sure it will be scrutinized. Perhaps rightfully so, as these are important discussions to be had. Just look at the current social unrest in Egypt where freedoms associated with internet access and cell phone communication were major flash points in the massive government opposition. When the people were silenced at home, they took their voices to the streets. And as of today, those voices were heard, their demands met, and Twitter and Facebook are at this moment flush with jubilation and optimism.
It’s a basic element of humanity to want to be heard. Communication has evolved to where it is today because people fundamentally want to communicate. And not just communicate for its own sake, but to be heard and validated. If that weren’t the case we wouldn’t have Twitter and Facebook.
Facebook. Technology hot button issue #1? Social networking is undoubtedly an incredible phenomenon with an obvious impact on society. Enter, “The Social Network”, Acadamy Award nominee for best picture in 2010 about the founding of Facebook. It’s hot, it’s controversial, and it’s a fantastic social experiment. But when the Oscar buzz dies down, when the morning shows are done chastising social networking for its assault on innocence after the latest school shooting, what remains? The constantly evolving internet and instantly evolving social networking scene will continue to beckon for examination of its fullest potential and possibility.
Perhaps more of the discussion needs to trend towards acceptance and positive utilization. This is not to diminish concerns about parental guidance, privacy, net neutrality (internet regulation), et cetera and et cetera. But if social media is here to stay, and it certainly appears to be, then we may accept its inevitability, the goods and the evils that come with all things human or machine, and lift up its best possible utilization.
Les Wong is the president of Northern Michigan University and, up until this week, a Facebook skeptic. That is until he realized its potential to save the lives of his students. The University currently has a cell phone based text message alert system that warns students about anything from a campus crisis to a snow day. According to their website that system has access to 95% of the student body- that is, IF they sign up for the alerts, have their cell phones turned on, have reception, and other ifs. However, at a university such as NMU where all incoming full-time students are supplied with a laptop as part of enrollment, an internet based alert system would undoubtedly reach a great audience. Imagine the relief of parents knowing that their Freshman is connected to a round-the-clock electronic safety net. No small amount of moms would be taking to the Tweets!
After the campus threat at NMU the local newspaper interviewed Wong and quoted him as saying: “Yesterday I had the epiphany the paradigm shift of suddenly thinking of those social networks less as a friendship building thing and social thing but as a very effective tool to get word to students and staff very quickly”.*
In addition to being used as a 1st line alert system for the facility, social media (frequently also access on cell phones) immediately becomes utilized as a secondary alert system within networks of student and faculty cohorts. Within seconds essential information has been spread, students are finding a safe place, friends are being located, and families are being contacted. In situations of stress and/or trauma, students and facilities can instantly organize a support group or meet-up to process emotions and disseminate coping resources by creating a Facebook event page or sending a Tweet.
Mr. Wong isn’t the only president talking technology in the news. Only a week after the threat at Northern Michigan University, President Obama visited the campus and this rural town of Marquette, Michigan to tout the benefits of WiMAX- global internet access that would surely social networking to a whole new level.
Social networking and emerging technologies will always be put to ethical tests. With instant communication, be it online or on phone, comes a virtual rumor mill. Not to mention the online bullying, sexting, and the bread crumb trail of our lives that we are leaving in electronic perpetuity. But so it has been for decades with every new fad, phenomena or advance. They require periods of adjustment, paradigm shifts, parental monitoring, psychological inquiry, the fine tooth comb, yet also the opportunity for good to prevail. We are stronger when we allow for the plasticity of change and when we discover possibilities within those things that challenge us the most.
Source Psychology Today