Home > Civic Participation, social computing, Twitter > Social Media and Civic Engagement

Social Media and Civic Engagement

Tonight while I was waiting for the bathtub to finish filling so I could give my 5-year-old his bath, I pulled out my phone to check Twitter. There was a huge rush of Tweets from @apsupdate, Twitter account for the Atlanta Public School system, which my kids attend.  I saw someone answering questions about APS, and scrolled down to see this tweet:

apsupdate: Have a question for our superintendent candidates? Tweet them now. #aps

OK, sure–why not?  I replied:

@apsupdate What can APS do to address cyber bullying, and should schools get involved in online behavior that happens off school grounds?

I got a tweet thanking me for the question. After bath, I checked back. I got these replies:

Q is from asbruckman: @apsupdate What can APS do to address cyber bullying, #aps

We have trained high school students who work with m.s. students and m.s. students who work with elem students re bullying. -Atkinson #aps

Our teachers, children and staff need to be trained on how to deal with traditional bullying. -Atkinson #aps

Cyber bullying is particularly hard to address outside of school. -Atkinson #aps

Our caution with technology has been how do we control things such as cyber-bullying. -Atkinson #aps

If we find out about it, we address it the same way based on our code of conduct the way we do traditional bullying. -Atkinson #aps

Very hard to address, but we have evolving policies. -Atkinson #aps

Not a bad answer, I think. The experience for me was fun. They asked my question! I got an actual answer! This leaves me with a big question: Was this a gimmick, or something more profound?

It’s not an easy question. Is participating via Twitter really participating? It certainly isn’t the same thing as being there. But it’s something, isn’t it? What if lots and lots of people could participate just a little in this fashion? Would something more emerge from it? This leads me to wonder what civic participation really is and what does it contribute anyway. If I tweet a question, did I contribute to my community? If I stand at a corner during rush hour holding a sign for Today’s Cause, did I contribute? If I turn my avatar green in support of Today’s Cause, did I contribute? Is all civic participation meaningful? How can we understand what any isolated contribution means? And then I wonder if I should go get a degree in government or public policy–I’m in over my head!

I have a confession to make–it never crossed my mind to even consider attending the interview with APS superintendent candidates in person. When the APS automatic caller told me about the meeting for the second or third time, I hung up a bit more energetically than was strictly necessary.  I’m way too busy to go to random community meetings. I have two kids, a more than full-time job…. You can forget it!  But would I listen in on Twitter again? Sure! It was fun.  I’m certainly more interested in the APS superintendent search now than I was this morning. If there’s an article about it in the morning paper, I’m more likely to read it. Maybe those tiny steps do mean something in the end.  Malcolm Gladwell argues that meaningful civic participation has nothing to do with the kind of trivial interactions among weak ties that social media fosters.  I think the jury’s still out. And what social media does for civic participation now doesn’t explain what it could do in the future. The challenge for researchers in interactive computing is to find ways to deliberately engineer the future of the social media socio-technical system to make those little steps matter.

To @apsupdate, thanks for asking my question!

  1. talkupaps
    June 30, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Your blog has us walking on air this morning Amy. Yours is the response we wanted! Many of us working here at APS, myself included, are parents of young students in the district and we understand that it is nearly impossible to attend the various meetings and gatherings held throughout the week. That is why social media is so important to us, especially as we transition. The days of having to be “in the room” are over. Last night you were just as “in the room” as any person sitting in the audience. In fact, you were even more engaged than some, because your question was asked, heard and answered by one of our candidates. Thank you for giving our live tweet a chance and thank you for participating. Every single child and parent/caretaker matters in APS. Each of us has a valuable voice. “See” you at the next live tweet!

    • June 30, 2011 at 8:13 am

      Thanks for the opportunity! I think it’s a great idea!

  2. beki70
    June 30, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Great post, and also neat to see replies from the School District too. I’m not a user of, but a taxpayer into that system… and I’m glad to see them experimenting with ways to connect to parents…

  3. APS Insider
    July 1, 2011 at 1:35 am

    Amy, you were smart not to go to the interview with the superintendent candidates. It’s a sham. The whole thing is a sham. They’re not going to hire either one of these ladies. They’re wasting everybody’s time and they know it. Remember I said it. July 1, 2011. Neither of these ladies will be superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. Your instincts were right when you hung up the phone. Continue to trust them.

  4. Stacey W
    July 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Very insightful. I am a graduate intern for an organization based in DC. I am researching for a presentation on social media and civic engagement. This is the first article I read, and I was inspired by your experience. Excellent post!


    • July 15, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      hey, thanks!
      hope it’s helpful in what you’re trying to do!

  5. December 28, 2012 at 3:07 am

    These are genuinely impressive ideas in concerning blogging.
    You have touched some nice points here. Any way keep up wrinting.

  1. July 1, 2011 at 3:03 am

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