Wednesday 01-03-2017 - 13:55
The way some people are using social media in the student movement is a problem. There is a difference between holding people to account, having healthy discussions and bullying and harassment - and these differences are important.
Over the last six months, a number of events and situations have led to Code of Conduct complaints and concerns about the wellbeing of individuals. It’s reached a point where I must take the unusual step of publicly intervening to ask those involved in student politics to think more carefully about your behaviour on social media.
A number of people have spoken to me about how pressured and how unpleasant behaviour can be, in the run up to National Conference and other democratic events. I observed this last year. I therefore want to ask you to stop and think carefully about your behaviour - both on and offline. We know from delegate feedback that fear and actual experiences of social media abuse is stopping some people from participating in political spaces, and standing for election for different positions. We also know that it worries and ultimately hurts people to receive, witness and be part of online abuse which impacts on their wellbeing.
Since I started working at NUS, both students and officers involved and engaged in NUS' work have said how difficult they sometimes find NUS spaces, in particular how they feel attacked on social media. We also know that it has a huge impact on their confidence, decision making and mental wellbeing.
At Strategic Conversation in December 2016, a number of officers said that the behaviour of some is putting them off getting involved nationally. In recent months, almost every single officer and volunteer I have spoken to has expressed their concerns about the conduct of people online. This is not acceptable. I want us to be a movement that prides itself on inclusiveness. A movement that treats each other with dignity and respect. A movement in accord with our values and beliefs.
In January I spoke at the CEOs and General Managers’ annual event about the impact social media is having across the student movement. Emphasising again how important it is that we all take action to develop a positive culture of discussion and debate on social media. That task is an urgent and important one that we must all take responsibility for.
Of course we all hold different views and believe different things: diversity of perspective, experience and identity is our strength. Understanding how to express our own views and understand the views of others is vital. It is at the heart of the transformative education processes we hold dear.
There are spaces to discuss and debate ideas and views, to hold each other to account, to argue different perspectives, to challenge, to learn and grow. There are places and processes within NUS to hold officers to account. Facebook and Twitter is not that place.
Bullying and harassment is never acceptable in any space. I am worried about the impact of social media on both the quality of debate and discussion in our democracy and on the wellbeing of individuals. So we must take deliberately proactive measures to improve on the current culture within student politics. As part of our strategic framework NUS 100: manifesto for a just and sustainable future, I and other colleagues will be working with colleagues across the student movement and beyond to identify how we can create healthy spaces for debate, and positive behaviours both on and offline. If you are interested in being involved in these discussions and want to support us with this work, please contact me.
The student movement is a progressive movement. It is a movement that prides itself on being inclusive and often at the forefront of change. So please think carefully about the impact of your behaviour both on and offline. Together we can create positive change in the spaces we use.