In a previous post about the Park City School Board, I asked the question “Should Community Opinion Matter to the Park City School Board?.” In the comments section, that article somewhat devolved into a discussion of whether the school board/district should have to watch social media and should the public expect that comments made on social media are “answered” by the powers that be.
First, I’ll state my opinion… Do I ever expect that City/County Managers, Council Persons, Planning Commissioners, government employees, school board members, etc. ever read The Park Rag? Absolutely not. I’m honored when they do. However, If I don’t email them, or show up at a meeting and say something, I have no expectation of any sort of response. Heck, even when I email, I have no expectation of response. Maybe other opinions vary.
However, that does not mean that social media does not matter (sorry for the double negative when talking about school related topics).
In days before Facebook and Next Door, when blogs were not prevalent, and the word tweet made people think of the song “Rocking Robin”, did people care about their community? Of course they did. How did they express those concerns? They voiced them to neighbors. They voiced them to friends on the phone. The talked about the issues in coffee shops. The difference was that there was no “network.” The conversation ended with your friend Sue. Sue’s friend Tom never heard it. Tom’s friend Jim never heard it. However, in today’s networked world, many people hear it.
That’s the problem when members of a group like the Park City School board dismiss “social media” out of hand. They think it’s Ok to say thing like, “How are we supposed to respond to comments on social media? Unless you email me directly or say it to my face, I won’t hear it.” That line of thinking is that of a RELIC.
Social media is not a new thing. This great post by Ben Thompson sums up social media during the last 8 YEARS. He highlights comments made by Clay Shirky who summarizes just how social media has taken over politics in the last half decade:
Social media is breaking the political ‘Overton Window’ — the ability of elites to determine the outside edges of acceptable conversation (link). These limits were enforced by party discipline, and mass media whose economics meant political centrism was the best way to make money (link). This was BC: Before Cable. One or two newspapers per town, three TV stations; all centrist, white, pro-business, respectful of authority (link). Cable changed things, allowing outsiders to campaign more easily. In ’92, Ross Perot, 3rd party candidate, campaigned through infomercials (link).
After Cable but Before Web lasted only a dozen years. Cable added a new stream of media access. The web added a torrent (link). This started with Howard Dean (the OG) in ’03. Poverty was the mother of invention; Dean didn’t have enough $ to buy ads, even on cable (link) but his team had Meetup & blogs… (link). After webifying Perot’s media tactics, Dean pioneered online fundraising. Unfortunately for him, his Get Out The Vote operation didn’t (link). That took Obama. Obama was less of an outsider than Dean (though still regarded as unelectable in ’07) but used most of Dean’s playbook (link). And then there was vote-getting. Facebook and MyBarackObama let the Obama campaign run their own vote-getting machine out of Chicago (link).
The new scale Facebook introduces into politics is this: all registered American voters, ~150M people, are now a medium-sized group (link). Reaching & persuading even a fraction of the electorate used to be so daunting that only two national orgs could do it. Now dozens can (link). This set up the current catastrophe for the parties. They no longer control any essential resource, and can no longer censor wedge issues (link)
While I realize the above quote is talking national politics, it’s not that different for local affairs. While the city and county fiddle about solving transportation issues, I’ve heard about (but not seen, to be fair) that there is a Facebook group that tells each other about real time traffic problems around Park City. If you want to hear about important issues that happened in a school board meeting late on Tuesday, does the Saturday Park Record give you what you need to know in a timely basis? Maybe but you’ll probably find a post the day after the meeting on NextDoor telling you about something you should be aware of.
More importantly, if our leaders are not paying attention to public opinion, they are missing out. If the school board looks out into the “audience” at a meeting and sees six eyes, four of which are reporters for KPCW and the Park Record, they should know that the community still cares about many of the issues. People just don’t have the time to attend meetings in person. They may catch up on meetings by watching video (which the school district does a great job of) or by hearing from friends on social media about the issue. If a person then has an opinion, they will then likely express that on the medium in which they learned about it: Twitter, NextDoor, Facebook, etc.
So, should our School Board and school district administrators spend their time scouring social media for public comments, so that they can answer them? Of course not.
Should they be aware that social media impacts a large proportion of the public’s view on issues that are important to the school board? Of course.
Government officials that ignore social media do so at their own peril.
While this issue has morphed over time, I recall hearing on KPCW that top district personnel hadn’t heard anything negative from teachers about removing reading aides from our classroom. I’ll say that I have heard comments from both teachers and reading aides about this change via social media. They aren’t happy. Given that, who looks more informed? A guy writing a “blog” or those in charge of our schools.
That is why social media is important.