Accountability vs online abuse at #NUSConference

Wednesday 06-04-2016 - 14:15

As National Conference looms large and election fever runs high, candidates across the political spectrum, myself included, will be focusing their minds on their manifestos and campaigning hard to win votes.

Conference can be the best of times and the worst of times. Thus has it always been, and I imagine shall ever be.

However, in more recent years we’ve unfortunately witnessed an increase in the worse times, owing in large part to social media, and specifically the blurring of the lines between democratic accountability online, and social media abuse. Running for election, whether for a local SU or national NUS office, is stressful enough without having to brace yourself for a potential onslaught of social media abuse veiled as ‘accountability’.

Many of you will be aware that NUS’ #Antisocialmedia campaign aims to challenge the abuse that is too often directed at both officers and students and which is seriously threatening our freedom to learn. Last month’s #Antisocialmedia Summit launched the first stage of the campaign - if you couldn’t make it or follow it on Twitter/Periscope, you can read what happened here. There were also workshops which focussed on the negative and positive uses of YikYak which many SUs are experiencing issues with, particularly around recent SU elections; on a student-facing #PostPositive campaign we are looking to launch with VInspired shortly; and on what SUs think we all – NUS, SUs, institutions, students, and providers such as Twitter, Facebook, YikYak etc – can do to tackle the issue.

SUs have been asking me for an update on the campaign, so I wanted to let you know what the next steps are before Conference. Since the summit, then many more of you have shared your experiences and made suggestions about how NUS can support you, so we’re now looking to pull together best practice guidance for SUs, incorporating it into summer training, and supporting SUs to work with their institutions to tackle the problem on their campuses. I’m still really keen for as many students’ unions  as possible to  feed in and shape this campaign so please do let me know if you have any further thoughts about what we should be doing as part of this work.

Alongside this I’ve has been in discussion with Yvette Cooper MP about the Reclaim the Internet coalition, which aims to be a cross-party campaign to stand against online abuse, with students playing a central role. I’ll update you when I have further details on that.

There will also be an #Antisocialmedia fringe at Conference where we’ll be asking delegates to discuss the difference between democratic accountability and social media abuse, and which will be another opportunity for SUs to share and discuss ideas.

Of course, if NUS is serious about leading the way in reclaiming the internet, then we need to lead by example and use social media responsibly. Debate is healthy and necessary, and accountability is essential, but we must be clear about where the line between this and abuse and harassment lies, and we must call it out when that line is crossed. I for one pledge now to not be #antisocial on social media at #NUSConference, and hope you will join me too.


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