Block 2. Week 8. Teaching: self-censoring

In The Platform Society Van Dijck, Poell, and de Waal observe that ‘platformization is profoundly affecting the very idea of education as a common good on both sides of the Atlantic’ [2018: 117]. In response, I tracked the platforms I used during the time I put aside for studying for this course. I tracked the amount of time I spent on each and the amount of times I self-censored on each. I spent more time on Twitter and less on Facebook, but self-censored far more on Twitter than Facebook (where I didn’t self-censor at all). On Twitter, I can’t shake the feeling of being in the public eye and I’m very aware that my comments are public. I also don’t understand the norms of communication there either (honestly!). Result: I self-censor. A lot. I’ve tried to visualise those self-censorings here. In contrast, on Facebook, I tend to feel and behave as if I’m in a private space. I’m more talkative and so are my friends: they’re smart, gregarious, and hilariously funny. On Twitter, we’re more buttoned down. I’ve attempted to represent the elusive feelings of being in public and private in the visualisation even though they are subjective and therefore hard (impossible?) to quantify.

The data visualisation could be used to demonstrate how students communicate differently on platforms they perceive to be more open and public in contrast with those they perceive to be closed. It suggests that students might be more inclined to self-censor in spaces they perceive to be more open and public. The phenomena of self-censorship poses a problem for teaching on open platforms like Twitter since it means that teachers are less likely to hear what students think. As a result, many debates – especially on controversial topics – will probably be more stifled, and less freewheeling and spontaneous than they might be otherwise. Teaching on Twitter also puts teachers under the public gaze even more than they already are from teaching observations, learning walks, students recording them on mobile phones, data reporting, and so on (Page [2016]. I’ve visualised the data gathered as an eye to remind us that the Facebook (and Twitter) spaces increasingly used in education for reading groups, student societies, tutorials, and so on, are not private spaces even if we feel and behave as if they are. It’s worth remembering too that Facebook and Twitter do not serve institutional or public goods. They serve the ends of surveillance capitalism [Zuboff 2019; Williamson et al 2020: 360-361]. You don’t pay for the services they offer because you and your data are the service they offer to others.

1 thought on “Block 2. Week 8. Teaching: self-censoring

  1. Another really creative take on the data visualisation here. I particularly like how the themes of self-censorship and privacy are conveyed through the image of an eye.

    ‘On Twitter, we’re more buttoned down’

    I wonder if that is to do with the sense of greater public exposure on Twitter. The platform certainly has a reputation for being a space for conflict, and ‘shaming’ as Jon Ronson has explored (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/So_You%27ve_Been_Publicly_Shamed)

    ‘many debates – especially on controversial topics – will probably be more stifled, and less freewheeling and spontaneous than they might be otherwise.’

    Good point here, which reflects some of the views collected in a research project we did on lecture recording a year or so ago. From both staff and students, there was a sense of caution about the publicising of debate.

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