Could Twitter spell twouble for teachers?

Twitter’s great isn’t it! It’s a fun, quick and easy way to communicate with friends. Twouble is, what happens when others are watching, too? Greg Adams investigates.

You’ve probably heard of Twitter. You may even be among the growing number of ‘Twitterers’.

What exactly is it? Well, the service describes itself as “a social messaging utility for staying connected in real-time”. What that actually means is that you can use it to send and receive text messages – known as ‘tweets’. It’s a bit like SMS for the Internet (and sometimes referred to as micro-blogging). Messages can be up to 140 letters in length and are automatically (and instantly) posted not only on the author’s profile page but also delivered to the author’s subscribers, who are known as ‘followers’.

Twitter was launched in 2006 and has grown phenomenally. It’s ranked as one of the 50 most popular websites worldwide, is the third most-used social network service, and is enjoyed by millions. To use the service you need to register on its website –www.twitter.com. Here you can set up your profile, post your tweets, and sign up as a follower … all for free.

If you’d like to learn a little more about the service, try these links:

I must admit, my first impression of Twitter was that it was for people who had way too much time on their hands and/or who narcissistically wanted to broadcast every random thought that entered their heads. While this may be true in some instances, there are also some very smart, professional, forward-thinking people mastering the ‘Twecosystem’ and using Twitter intelligently.

Of course, celebrities are the most ‘followed’. Actor Ashton Kutcher is in top spot with 2.83 million people apparently hanging on his every move (no, I don’t get it either). In the recent US Presidential election, Twitter was used to good effect by candidates. In May, astronaut Mike Massimino became the first to tweet from space from on board the space shuttle Atlantis.

“Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!” he tweeted from orbit.
Okay, so hardly Nobel prize-winning prose, but all good fun nonetheless.

On a more serious note, a recent report in New Scientist showed that instant messaging systems like Twitter did a “better job of getting information out during emergencies than either the traditional news media or government emergency services”. Indeed, media are increasingly using Twitter as both as a means to distribute information and as a source of public sentiment on issues.

Naturally, you can now also follow the latest news from INTERFACE (http://twitter.com/Interfacemag).

Some people are publishing stories and full-length novels using Twitter – it’s called Twiction. You can read ‘Twillers’, a thriller posted in tweets, or indulge in Twitterature, which is the act of reproducing classic literature in 20 tweets or less.

But, despite all this, the heart and soul of Twitter is normal people, like you and me (… okay, so fairly normal people), who post everything from their idle musings to messages to friends to their whereabouts at any given time.

By and large it’s good, harmless fun. However, there are risks to using the service – or ones like it – not least for teachers and others in positions of authority and responsibility, as Maidstone School’s Andre Kneepkens discovered:

“A couple of weeks ago I joined Twitter, although I didn’t use my real name. All fairly harmless … or so I thought. A week later I was walking across the playground when a student happened to pass me and call out ‘Hey, Mr Kneepkens, great comment on Twitter last night!’ It stopped me dead in my tracks! It hadn’t occurred to me that students from my school were following what I was saying! Not that any comment I’ve posted gives me any concern but it got me thinking. How easily someone could post comments that are completely inappropriate, particularly for teachers. I realise I can block people and hide comments but that kind of defeats the whole purpose. I wonder how long it will be before we read of teachers in serious difficulty with their employers because of comments posted on Twitter?”

Andre isn’t the first and I’m sure he won’t be the last to voice such concerns. Thankfully, his experience was innocent enough but it’s a timely reminder of the potential dangers of sharing thoughts in a public space.

Greg Adams is Editor of INTERFACE Magazine

© INTERFACE Magazine, August 2009

Comments

Jo Fothergill   Posted: 5/09/2009 2:27 PM

It seems to me that anything you put out there is public and should be treated as such. Therefore if you want to say stuff that could get you into trouble later find some way of saying so that you can’t ever be identified (which I think is impossible!)

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