I’ve been ‘against’ a few things in my time. In 1978, I was one of 80,000 people marching from Trafalgar Square to a park in East London for a Rock Against Racism carnival. Apparently this was the largest protest of its kind since the 1930s, and a new generation of people are keeping the momentum going in things like Love Music, Hate Racism. By comparison, the ‘Students Against Crap Teaching’ (SACT) group on Facebook is a minor affair – 21 members, and no posts for nearly a year. Nevertheless, the THE found the fact that we are mentioned on it momentous enough to ask for a comment, which appears in the current THE (Threads that twist and tangle, THE, 28 February 2008.) I get to say some brainy things about social networking (hooray for me), but my disparagement of the SACT itself (pointless and dormant) was omitted.
This goes to show how the permanent, searchable nature of social networks differentiate them from word of mouth. If someone had made a mild comment about teaching at Edge Hill a year ago in a pub somewhere, it’s unlikely that a national journalist would be emailing us for a response twelve months later. But the words (and pictures) that populate the Web 2.0 sphere are always there to be examined, like the fossil record or those layers of broken pottery they find on Time Team (‘So, what kind of household would have lived on this site, Phil?’ ‘Well Tony, these pots were imported from the Mediterranean, so they would have been quite a high status family…’)
But does it matter? In the SACT example, one person expressed a negative opinion on one occasion – big deal. Obviously, sustained attacks suck as ‘**** UEL’ or ‘[a named individual at another university] is ****’ (check out the THE for the full potty-mouthed version) are more worrying, but generally speaking positive comments outweigh the negative and it’s all part of the free exchange of opinion that makes a healthy society.
The THE point out that ‘Edge Hill University already monitors web activity relating to the university’, which could imply that we have a room full of gimlet-eyed analysts monitoring screens all day, perhaps in a darkened room like the headquarters in ’24’, or the curiously-understaffed MI5 in ‘Spooks’. In fact it’s a much more low-key affair, involving judicious use of RSS feeds, common sense, and little time. We are following the threads, but not becoming entangled in them.