Prof: You know that song, “dur, dur-dur, dur-dur-dur, dur-dur-dur-dur”… that’s your favourite, that is. That’s your favourite no 1 song of all time. Oh, you’ve had a haircut. HAIRCUT! HAIRCUT!

Lewis: See that Theo Kojak? That’s you, that is. 

Prof: [pointing] See that bit of flob? 

Lewis: Yes. 

Prof: That’s you, that is. 

Lewis: No, that’s your swimming pool, in your garden – oh look, there’s your mum! [mimes swimming] 

Newman and Baddiel – History Today

The dust settles on another bloody Twitter battlefield. This time it’s the professionals that have clashed. The self proclaimed victors stand surveying the landscape as the opposition fall back in to the shadows and the troops gather round. The irony as cold as the blood on the keyboard.

No one is surprised anymore as they watch the developing abyss widen between views in a time where social media is immediate and so very easily personal. We have done something in education that used to be the preserves of smokey university bars and publications (when philosophical rifts took months to build and decades to resolve).

Living with people who differ so much is one of the great challenges we face. Cooperation is something that needs time and skill to develop (especially when the interaction is binary). As Richard Sennet shows us in his book ‘Together’ cooperation takes patience and practice. 

A lot of practice…

A lot of patience….

 What is it about us that makes what someone says (or even how they say it) a trigger for conflict? How is it that victims and victimisers and mob justice is seemingly only moments away? A few days ago I wrote, “Does anyone else feel they are only one tweet away from infamy?” I thought I was being playful?

After reading the tweets and blogs (comparisons to big brother and I’m a celebrity not lost on me) I had a stupid thought:

There should be a code of practice for Twitter. 

If we are to make a difference to society then social media is clearly going to play a big role in this. We need to model our behaviour on here as much as on the streets. I am not, for a second, saying I have the answer – but I am posing the question. If you were stood up in front of 100 colleagues you respected would you write that tweet? Can you rephrase the tweet in a way that would not make it personal? Again, the irony is the issues usually being debated are in fact important. The opposing views are vital in terms of moving the issue on. Nothing is achieved when the two sides retreat and gather like minded souls to the flag and open private forums. We need debate and different views more than ever… More importantly we need terms of engagement so that people can oppose what is said and not feel they are being shamed or called out. Surely the education community can do this (if anyone can?). Surely we are not like those two professors from History Today who spend all their time introducing important topics to debate and then very quickly getting in to, “Ya Mumma” rhetoric.

I also think that when it does all go wrong there should be ways in which the parties are brought together again. As soon as possible we need to try to come together and apologise for the times we overstepped the mark, professionally put across what our point was, listen to each other and move on. All this wounded professionalism helps no one. There should be a Twitter green room where all arguments that get a little too heated should go afterwards to deconstruct the argument – one to one rather than in such a public way. I think the public nature is the worst part. Like the fights I used to watch at my secondary school (where behaviour was worse than anything I ever come across today) where the crowds gathered chanting Fight Fight Fight! The two poor individuals in the middle wishing they had kept their mouths shut but knowing they had to see it through.

Maybe, once again, I am naive. Maybe we just have to accept there is no Utopian world view and conflict is just human nature and we all need to ‘get over it’.