There is no such thing as the “innocent” bystander

In school, children learn about bullies and are taught about the different aspects of bullying. There is the bully, the victim, and the bystander. Learning about social media and its relation to social justice, I have been thinking a lot about bullying and the how the role of the bystander is just as significant as the bully. When I see people using Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram to post unjustified remarks towards a specific group of people is it my responsibility to reply? Do I use my voice to stand up for those whose voices are silenced? Am I a bystander if I do not use social media to expose the injustices in the world?

All of these questions ran through my mind when I clicked on a tweet and made the regretful decision to scroll through the replies. The tweet was a link to an article by CBC’s Rosemary Barton about how Canada’s plan to let refugees into Canada will be limited to women, families, and children. I was shocked and dismayed to see all of the hateful replies this news article received. On one hand, I wanted to reply to every single tweet I saw but on the other hand, a part of me knew that if someone could tweet such hateful and ignorant words to begin with, my one reply would not get through to them. I concluded that by not doing anything I would be a bystander to the bullying that was happening so I did tweet. In my tweet, I stated my support and included #refugeeswelcome in hopes that even just one person would see it, explore the hashtag, and be a bit more enlightened.

As a pre-service teacher, I am starting to learn what it means to be an educator. My students will constantly be learning from my actions, and what I choose to teach and discuss is what they will deem important. By staying silent about injustices in the world I am telling my students that they don’t matter, and this goes above and beyond the classroom. My professor, Katia Hildebrandt, summed this up perfectly in a blog post titled “Edtech…for social justice?:

If we are online, as educators, and we remain silent about issues of social justice, if we tweet only about educational resources and not about the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in Canada, or about the burning of Black churches in the southern United States, we are sending a clear message: These issues are not important”

So I guess going back to the bullying comparison I ask: As teachers if we are idly using our social media for personal use are we any better than the bystanders on the playground?

If it is our responsibility to teach students not to be a bystander than it is also our responsibility not to be that bystander.

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