Introduction

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Communicating with social media has never been easy or simple for me. Though I understand the technology (I can retweet, tag, Snapchat, edit a photo on Instagram, and make a photo album dedicated to my cats on Facebook), navigating the ethically fraught and entwined nature of my social, professional, and political identities is another matter.

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For example:

  • I’ve ruined family relationships over political posts.
  • I’ve wrestled with maintaining a professional identity while having the instantaneous ability to vent my frustrations.
  • I’ve come off as condescending and overbearing while encouraging friends to be more thoughtful about the consequences of what they write online.
  • I’m constantly torn between to desire to unfriend those who share racist, homophobic, transphobic, islamaphobic, etc. posts and the desire to listen, discuss, and converse with those outside of my own world view.
  • When a major news event happens, I’m sometimes unsure if the positive benefits of being connected outweigh the negative feelings of anxiety, guilt, and anger that come with refreshing my social media feed.

I’m guessing that most who use social media have run into similar concerns.

The challenges that come with learning to navigate the intersections of digitality, identity and ethics in these everyday communicative spaces have fueled my own research and pedagogy related to digital rhetorics. As a DRC fellow, I hope to encourage conversations about the relationship of digital composing tools to responsibility and communication while also considering how these conversations may be brought into the classroom as activities, assignments, and discussion-starters.

Through my studies, I’ve been especially drawn to feminist rhetorical theory since it has historically prioritized the need to develop responsibility in communication, motivating feminists toward definitions and strategies that foster values of equality, reflexivity, inclusivity, and transparency (I think here, for example, of Ratcliffe’s notions of rhetorical listening, Micciche’s book Doing Emotion, and Foss and Griffin’s ideas about invitational rhetoric). But the deep and present sense of thoughtfulness and ethical communication that feminists seek in their pedagogies are most often theorized around asynchronous and textual-based composing.

With social media, there are different obstacles to ethics: for example, the nuance of a particular post may be lost, overshadowed instead by the context of the latest trending story. And social media design most often values the speed of information sharing instead of asking us to reflect on who shares what information and why.

I believe it’s becoming increasingly necessary—especially given the networked, algorithm-based, and surveilled design of our current communication technologies— for digital rhetoricians to question and understand how our sense of responsibility for one another is imbedded in and/or enacted through digital tools.

In the upcoming months for the DRC, it is my goal to assist in the organization of a Blog Carnival based on feminist perspectives of digital rhetoric and also contribute to the Digital Lesson Plans series by sharing how activities about ethics and social media may be brought into the classroom. If you are interested in sharing ideas, swapping resources, or simply connecting, you may find me on Twitter (at)kristin_ravel or email me: kmravel(at)uwm.edu.

About Author(s)

Kristin Ravel is pursuing her PhD in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research interests encompass multimodality, digital media studies, ethics in communication, and feminist theory.

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