I uploaded 36 minutes of video footage of my mother and her sisters to YouTube. Seated together on a sunny summer afternoon, four of seven sisters, they chat about family recipes and stories of their youth. I shared the clip this past summer on the popular video platform so my cousins could also enjoy watching their mothers and aunts.
Now, I grow uneasy about what I have done in sharing these precious moments of my family on the same digital space that is used by ISIS with their twisted propaganda and grisly beheadings.
My discomfort goes beyond Mom and the aunts. I am increasingly aware that the hashtags on my Twitter chats (#edchat or #engchat) gather interest from like-minded educators, just like the hashtags used by radicals worldwide to recruit terrorists to their cause.
The same platform Storify that holds my Advanced Placement English Literature lesson on Satan’s fall from grace in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, shares digital space with a myriad of other demonic messages.
The social media that lets me earmark information that I want to share also allows others to communicate information I would never want people to see.
On the way home, the quandary I currently face was echoed in a story on National Public Radio (NPR)Pro-ISIS Messages Create Dilemma For Social Media Companies:
According to law enforcement officials, ISIS and other terrorist organizations are increasingly adept at using social media to recruit from abroad. Last year alone, the FBI reports, around 20 American citizens were detained trying to travel to Syria to join militants fighting for the so-called Islamic State. (1/29/15)
Another story on NPR (12/11/14) explained how three teenage girls from Denver tried to fly to Syria.
They were recruited by the terrorist group known as ISIS, or the Islamic State. The group lured the girls over social media – a tactic the group is using to draw fighters from around the world.
These tactics used by terrorists shows the power of social media to promote a message. As an educator, I have seen the power of digital tools in my classroom to improve student understanding in content areas of English and social studies. I recognize that I share the same platforms as those who use the power of social media for unimaginably horrible reasons.
We are awash in the digital bath of Khan Academy, Grumpy Cat, Star Wars Kid memes, and toddlers singing “Let it Go”; their codes brushing against images of mass executions in Syria. That digital bath now has my mother and her sisters…and I almost wish I had not added them to this toxic mix.
The promise of social media in connecting humanity shows itself as a dangerous bargain.