Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Choice - Capacity to Love & Hate

As educators get ready for the back to school preparations I wonder to what extent their endeavors to keep our kids safe online will look like? 

I also wonder if any initiatives might be a little behind the curve... as the landscape has clearly changed.

The underlining message of this post is... If you see a marginalised kid in your school this year, give em a hug!

I joined social media in early 2011 starting with LinkedIn, then Twitter and wrote my first blog post in April 2012. I continue to work on ideas from that first post... in particular around the Lost in the Ghetto 

In 2011 my sons were 9 & 10 years old. Both enjoyed school and, as a family, things were going well for us. 

Today I have two teenagers who are at the end of their school experiences and it's not been a great experience for either... and as a family the wheels came off a little. We're currently picking up the pieces.

So perhaps I am able to empathise with how/why some of these lost kids become a little lost, I can see how this could easily have been one of my kids given the challenges they've faced.

Regarding my experiences with social media it has been fascinating seeing the early potential of collaboration when I first joined -> to seeing where things were heading both in education and in politics in 2014/15 -> to the level of hate that exists today.

This includes the way that our so called political 'leaders' use social media (Not to mention the difference between what they say about issues like online abuse Vs the way they sub-tweet their political adversaries and/or how they turn a blind eye to their support base). 

Policy makers will tell us that 'It's everyone else's fault' and claim they have nothing to do with the discourse of hate online that we find today... which is now spilling onto our streets with extreme groups killing in New Zealand, Dayton and El Paso, to name just a few!

Two weeks ago Dayton and El Paso, last night Portland Antifa protests and today 24 year old Jack Letts loses his UK Citizenship. 

In 2006 Letts would have been 12 years old and 'Every Child Matters' would have been part of his school which included a 'Stay Safe' strand... I wonder what Blair did to keep Letts safe from being radicalised?

Articles like this one saying:

"I think Jack was impressionable, he was very young and I think he was very easily targeted by someone" 

Isn't a ringing endorsement for the 'Things can only get better... Education! Education! Education!" Blair/Brown 'New labour' legacy... but what do they care now that they have their memoirs and lucrative speaking gigs? I bet they care a lot less than Letts' parents do about the situation!


1) Books like The Ten Types of Human (The Octracist Chapter 

2) What US Counter-Terrorism explore in response to threats posed by people like Scottish school girl-turned-ISIS-recruiter Asqa Mahmood 

3) Hearing how some young people who were marginalised in their school life found a sense of belonging on Reddit... a space that we now know that the Alt Right has been using to recruit people for years.

Today the far right are creating their own spaces where people like the New Zealand shooter are praised... When things get to the stage where our kids are on these far right/extremist spaces described in articles like Dark Corners of the Web that Fight to restrain the far-right after Christchurch massacre where messages in their online forums that

"Glorify the New Zealand terrorist as St Tarrant — patron saint of the far right"

It's probably too late!

Which organisation and/or group is doing what to prevent them going onto these sites, in a way that actually works? If the answer is no-one, then who will lead on this? How preventable could this have been with a 12 year old Mahmood, Begum and Letts with the right word from the right teacher? ECM Stay Safe?!

"When you're young a little bit of correction goes a long way" 
Steve Jobs regarding how his 4th Grade Teacher probably kept him out of jail

I have some contrarian thoughts to what many think and includes wondering:

To what extent have we let our young people down as they lack a sense of belonging at home and at school that they feel the need to seek out extremist groups... and find a sense of belonging there?

If it takes a village to raise a child, this kind of reflection is a lot more challenging that simply saying 

"It's the tech companies fault"


"All the blame is on this impressionable/lost teenager and the choices they made" 

Such suggestions would mean that grown ups across the board from policy makers, educators to parents have dropped the ball and let these kids down... Which is a concern given the scale, influence and damage the groups recruiting these kids are doing today.

...Or a testament to the tactics that Bannon and Alt-Right & ISIS recruiters like Mahmood used (See the Google example below).

A twenty year old today who is an angry keyboard warrior and/or who is demonstrating on the streets with whatever colour of shiny flag (Whether Confederate, Star Spangled, Saltire, Union Jack or EU) will have seen numerous governments and their shiny initiatives

Every Child Matters (2006 UK)
The Big Society (2010 UK)
Attainment Gap (Scotland)
Developing the Youth Workforce (2015 Scotland)
Curriculum for Excellence (Scotland)
No Child Left Behind (2008 US)

As well as leaders from diverse backgrounds with Barack Obama and female leaders like Theresa May (But in the case of the UK in actual fact there is actually zero diversity as it's always Oxbridge & Eton types!)

While Alt Right were on Reddit making angry young white men even angrier...

Where were the No Child Left Behind advocates? 
Where was Blair's 'Every Child Matters' proponents when Shamina Begum was in his education system
Where was Cameron and Gove's 'Big Society' when Begum was being recruited by Mahmood? 

Dismissing social media and seeing schools block these services from 2007-2010(ish)... only for the all too familiar Twitter, Youtube and Facebook icons to be prominent on many school webpages a few years later?

Some school policies include that educators are not allowed to follow students on social media... let alone reply to them or send any private messages etc.

I understand the risks with suggestions like this BUT I don't see Alt Right or ISIS recruiters having any issues with engaging with students when they were under ECM's 'Stay Safe,' and today Begum and Letts most certainly are children that were left behind with their UK citizenship revoked... by the very people who were spouting 'Every Child Matters,' 'Things can only get better,' 'Education! Education! Education!,' 'Stay Safe.' 

How much worse could things have been if educators were encouraged and empowered to embrace these tools and engage with their students? Surely no worse than what's happened to Begum, Letts and many other impressionable - and by all accounts vulnerable - teenagers?!

Has my generation taught the youth well enough to prevent another Holocaust from occurring? Or will our hard won freedom capsize in a new sea of hate?

Is a question that Edith Eger asks in the extract below, can policy makers in charge of education really say "Yes" to this question with a straight face and without it being nothing more than Trump's 'Alternative Facts' and #FakeNews?

Are you Smart Enough to Work at Google?
You've probably heard the kind of 'You're stuck in a blender' type interview questions that prospective Google employees were asked... or the 5-6 interviews that Biz Stone had when Ev Williams wanted him on the Blogger team... Or that Page and Brin signed off on every member of staff and have 42 page dossier on each member of staff.

So how does this kind of thing happen at organisations that are so thorough with their recruitment practices?

"Googlers on both sides of the battle lines had become adept at working the refs—baiting colleagues into saying things that might violate the company's code of conduct, then going to human resources to report them. But Googlers on the right were going further, broadcasting snippets of the company's uncensored brawls to the world, and setting up their colleagues for harassment" Three Years of Misery Inside Google

The same as has happened at Twitter and Reddit happened at a company with a stringent hiring process and that had such a great culture that it welcomed diversity and dissent. 

Thanks to Bannon and his mission to unite the far right... Without the proper checks in place this has affected our young people, tech geniuses and politics in the US, UK and elsewhere... Online and now offline too.

(The crazy thing is that in 2014 The SNP/Scot Govt had the same momentum as the far right did, as the same 'network effects' and 'feedback loops' were in place).
What if... There was more pro-action and forward thinking and things like #ForTheWeb and #OnlineHarms were launched a decade ago?

As it is, given some of the topics and comments about them, I am kind of glad that my 16 and 18 year old kids are not on social media today.

But these 'radicalised' kids didn't grow up in a vacuum and it seems a little too easy to vilify all things tech and/or put all the blame on a 15/16 year old and not take a closer look within the 4 walls of our IRL institutions. 

I have just finished Edith Eger's book 'The Choice' and regarding both Digital Citizenship and Citizenship I found the session that Edith had with a 14 year old white supremacist extremely interesting.

This extract is below, followed by others that are relevant regarding the role that bullying, ostracism and kids who are just plain lost and how it contributes to some of the online hatred today.

If you see a kid who's alone this academic year... Give em a hug! (It worked for EDL member Ivan Humble

If you see a kid sharing messages of hate online, I don't understand why educators are not swarming in on the convo to both change the narrative and give them a virtual hug... It IS possible to tone the convo down, I know because I've experimented with this myself. 

(Actually I do know why educators don't do this... Because pushing back on these messages is super scary! Not to mention that there are also reputational issues... especially if kids from your class follow your Tweets. But if it isn't educators who lead on these issues - in their own IRL communities and in their online networks - I can't think of any other group who will... you expect Trump, Farage or Boris to? Given that they employ people like Bannon, Cummings and Banks?? Can't see that happening any time soon, can you?)

The Choice
In the middle of the afternoon we reach Krakow. We will sleep here tonight - or try to. Tomorrow we will take a cab to Auschwitz. Bela wants to tour the Old Town, and I try to pay attention to the medieval architecture, but my mind is too heavy with expectation - a strange mix of promise and dread. We pause outside St Mary's Church to hear the trumpeter play the bejnal that marks the top of every hour. A group of teenage boys jostles past us, joking loudly in Polish, but I don't feel their merriment, I feel anxious. These young men, a little older than my grandchildren, remind me how soon the next generation will come of age. Has my generation taught the youth well enough to prevent another Holocaust from occurring? Or will our hard won freedom capsize in a new sea of hate?

I have had many opportunities to influence young people - my own children and grandchildren, my former students, the audiences I address around the world, individual patients. On the eve of my return to Auschwitz, my responsibility to them feels especially potent. It isn't just for myself that I'm going back. It's for all that ripples out from me.

Do I have what it takes to make a difference? Can I pass on my strength instead of my loss? My love instead of my hatred?

I've been tested before. A fourteen year old boy who had participated in a car theft was sent to me by a judge. The boy wore brown boots, a brown shirt. He leaned his elbow on my desk. He said, "It's time for America to be white again. I'm going to kill all the Jews, all the niggers, all the Mexicans, all the chinks"

I thought I would be sick. I struggled not to run from the room. What is the meaning of this? I wanted to shout. I wanted to shake the boy, say, Who do you think you're talking to? I saw my mother go to the gas chamber. I would have been justified. And maybe it was my job to set him straight, maybe that's why God had sent him my way. To nip his hate in the bud. I could feel the rush of righteousness. It felt good to be angry. Better angry than afraid.

But then I heard a voice within. Find the bigot in you, the voice said. Find the bigot in you.

I tried to silence that voice.I listed my many objections to the very notion that I could be a bigot. I came to America penniless. I used the 'coloured' bathroom in solidarity with my fellow African American factory workers. I marched with Dr Martin Luther King Jr to end segregation. But the voice insisted: Find the bigot in you. Find the part in you that is judging, assigning labels, diminishing another's humanity, making others less than who they are.

The boy continued to rant about the blights to America's purity. My whole being trembled with unease, and I struggled with the inclination to wag my finger, shake my fist, make him accountable for his hate - without being accountable for my own. This boy didn't kill my parents. Withholding my love wouldn't conquer his prejudice.

I prayed for the ability to meet him with love. I thought of Corrie ten Boom, one of the Righteous Gentiles. She and her family resisted Hitler by hiding hundreds of Jews in their home, and she ended up in a concentration camp herself. Her sister perished there - she died in Corrie's arms. Corrie was released due to a clerical error one day before all of the inmates at Ravensbruck were executed. And a few years after the war, she met one of the most vicious guards at her camp, one of the men responsible for her sisters death. She could have spit on him, wished him death, cursed his name. But she prayed for the strength to forgive him, and she took his hands in her own. She says in that moment, the former prisoner clasping the hands of the former guard, she felt the purest most profound love. I tried to find that embrace, that compassion, in my own heart, to fill my eyes with that quality of kindness. I wondered if it was possible that this racist boy had been sent to me so I could learn about unconditional love. What opportunity did I have in this moment? What choice could I make right then that could move me in the direction of love? 

 I had an opportunity to love this young person, just for him, for his singular being and our shared humanity. The opportunity to welcome him to say anything, feel any feeling, without the fear of being judged. I remembered a German family that was stationed for a while at Fort Bliss, how the girl would climb into my lap and call me Oma - Grandma - and this little benediction from a child felt like the answer to the fantasy I'd had as I passed through German towns with Magda and the other inmates, as the children spat at us, when I dreamed of a day when German children would know they didn't have to hate me. And in my own lifetime, that day came to pass. I thought of a statistic I read, that most of the members of white supremacist groups in America lost one of their parents before they were 10 years old. These are lost children looking for an identity, looking for a way to feel strength, to feel like they matter.

And so I gathered myself up and I looked at this young man as lovingly as I could. I said three words: "Tell me more"

I didn't say much more than that during the first visit. I listened. I empathized. He was so much like me after the war. We had both lost our parents - his to neglect and abandonment, mine to death. We both thought of ourselves as damaged goods. In letting go of my judgement, in letting go of my desire for him to be or beleive anything different, by seeing his vulnerability and his yearning for belonging and love, in allowing myself to get past my own fear and anger in order to accept and love him, I was able to give him something his brown shirt and brown boots couldn't - an authentic image of his own worth. When he left my office that day, he didn't know a thing about my history. But he had seen an alternative to hate and prejudice, he was no longer talking about killing, he had shown me a soft smile. And I had taken responsibility that I not perpetuate hostility and blame, that I not bow to hate and say, you are too much for me.

Now, on the eve of my return to prison, I remind myself that each of us has an Adolf Hitler and a Corrie ten Boom within us. We have the capacity to hate and the capacity to love. Which one we reach for - our inner Hitler or inner ten Boom - is up to us" Edith Eger, The Choice.

The Ten Types of Human - The Ostracist
Ostracism threatens our need to feel we belong, that we are worthy of attention - are not invisible. It is a pain, Williams says, 'that keeps on giving.' The reaction to such social rejection can be both fundamental and fierce.

On Wednesday 24th November 2004, it was the first period of the last day of school before Thanksgiving at Valparaiso High School, Indiana.

James Lewerke, a 15 year old class member, offered to close the classroom door and turn off the lights for the video. He stood. His teacher, Ashley Dobis, daughter of the State Representative Chet Dobis, thought he was being polite. Students tended to behave well with her. They liked her. So when Miss Dobis gave permission, Lewerke got up. He was a generally quiet boy with pretty good grades. But when he turned to face the class, Dobis says, 'He just had a look in his eyes.' James Lewerke pulled out a machete and a serrated tree saw.

He slashed 7 of his classmates with the weapons.

As he rushed out of the room, several courageous teachers tackled him. One of them kicked a weapon along the school corridor. Later Lewerke told the police that he targeted his fellow pupils indiscriminately because

'They were all the same to him'

In the aftermath of his rampage, it was reported by the Indianapolis Star that

'He was so invisible at High School this fall that students who sat next to him didn't even know his name'

'To repair the pain of invisibility, we may provoke other people into paying attention to us, to force others to recognize our existence. Ostracism is a thread that weaves through case after case of school violence' Kip Williams

In 2003, Mark Leary and colleagues published meta-analysis of school shootings in the US since 1995. They called it, 'Teasing, Rejection, and Violence.' They found that 87% of incidents had as a major contributory factor acute or chronic social rejection. In that period, 40 children had been shot dead in their school corridors and classrooms.

'They are past wanting to be liked or readmitted into society, they may even want to be immortalised for their actions, even their death. By doing what they're doing they're going to get noticed. They'll be invisible no more'

'When Animals experience extreme physical pain,' Naomi Eisenberger, speaking in Reject, a film about ostracism, says 'one of thier first responses is to attack whatever's nearby. This sheds some light on why people may be aggressive after they feel rejected. The extent to which there's some overlap between the system that regulates physical pain and the system regulating pain of rejection, means people may become aggressive in response to social rejection'

'I'm not insane, I'm angry' Luke Woodham, 16, to psychiatrists when arrested in 1997 for opening fire with a hunting rifle in a cafeteria at Pearl High School, Mississippi. He killed two, wounded seven.

'All throughout my life, I was ridiculed, beaten, hated'

...Cognative systems are likely to have developed to solve recurring vital survival problems, including the problems of group living. Deviance from the norm may trigger similar systems to those directed at distancing from contagion. Group members who loyally hold onto the pervasive group norm avoid individuals who depart from or transgress it in a similar way to that in which they avoid disease-bearers. As such, ostracism amounts to a social isolation which can be viewed as a kind of quarantine, with the ultimate sanction being total group isolation.

As it floated and shimmered through the air towards him, the Frisbee that changed Kip William's intellectual life carried with it a message about human communication and connection. Of course, tossing a ball or a Frisbee by oneself can provide the same aerobic and energetic workout, more so if we wish. It's just not phenomenologically rewarding for humans - at least some of the time. But simultaneously, we have a residual, often unvoiced, fear of the fun stopping, of it being taken away, of our being unfriended, unfollowed.

What is all this for?

Beyond a few, relatively rare exceptions, most of us need the impromptu Frisbee games of life with strangers. The opportunity for fruitful future interaction means that the sting of social rejection may be an avoidance adaptation to encourage steering clear of behaviors that lead to exclusion, a method for promoting social bonds. In broad agreement, Williams says,

'I think it has an evolutionary basis. We have evolved as social animals, and it's important for the survival of a social animal to maintain a connection with others. So we are wired to detect hints that we could lose it.'

But that group connection is not free, it comes at a cost.

Groups have norms - rules. Ostracism or its threat operates as a form of social control, the enforcement of norm conformity - even if it is not fair or equitable, even if it is pathological and harmful. The power of ostracism derives from its targeting of our vulnerabilities and insecurities: The fear of not belonging - ultimately, of being alone.

'So as we have seen, interesting patterns of behavioral responses to ostracism. For many people, they will conform more to a unanimous group, even if that group is clearly wrong in their perceptional judgments. They will go along with it. They will be more likely to comply, to obey a command' Kip Williams

In other words, they become more susceptible to social influence, to avoid, as Williams puts it, the 'kiss of social death'

We ostracize; we are ostracized. We are the Ostraciser; we are it's victim. Ostracism lances surgically straight into our mind. Neural systems fire; avoidance systems are engaged; social pain feels like real pain. It is real. Whether the mental module has developed independently or recruited pre-existing systems for physical pain, we are constantly alive to its signals. Acceptance, rejection, they matter. Rejection can lead to serrated tree saws in the classroom; blooded knives being kicked along school corridors; the slashing of wrists after a reality TV eviction; a well meaning boy like Joshua Unsworth walking quietly out of his parents farmhouse and into the trees.(For more extracts see 
Bullies, 'Takers' & Ostracism)

New Power

"The Reddit world is made up of its users, who skew young, male, and geeky, and do the upvoting, linking and commenting...In the months prior to the #RedditRevolt the CEO had tried to create new rules to shut down offensive content and hate speech on the site. Predictably, this had clashed with the somewhat outlaw, libertarian ethos of Reddit. Many suspected these efforts were not driven by a moment of moral awakening but rather were an effort to clean  up the site so it could be more easily monetised for advertisers. The speech that the CEO was targeting was extreme: Revenge porn, attacking transgender people, white supremacists... It was also easy to sense gender dynamics at play on a platform whose users were mostly male" 

"Brian recalls why he chose to become a volunteer moderator when the site introduced them 'You got to build a community. You build a policy structure that keeps it thriving, keeps it going. That's why Reddit was successful. You feel like you own it"

Courtnie talks about her identity as a super users like this: 'Reddit is my community center, it's my YMCA'"

Asqa Mahmood
"After these false starts, the United States began to realise it needed to take a different approach. CSCC coordinator Alberto Fernandez laid out a new direction, speaking to Congress in 2015:

"You need to find a way to form loose, open source communities of interest or swarms that can swarm back and push back against the ISIS message. It's not an impossible thing to do. It can be done"

The new inter-agency Global Engagement Centre is trying to make this happen. Discarding the top down hectoring tone of the Think Again Turn Away campaign, the centre is trying to build a "Network of positive messengers" to share not just counter narratives, but alternative narratives drawing people away for more extreme positions, amplifying the messages of its partners, from religious leaders to schools.

One promising effort is the P2P (Peer-to-peer) Challenging Extremism competition, which partners with Facebook and hundreds of universities around the world. The brief here is loose: students come up with creative ways to 

"Push back on online hate, prejudice and extremism while empowering their peers"

A group of Finnish students launched a movement of pop-up restaurants where asylum seekers shared their native foods with locals. A US team created a Snap Chat campaign. A class from Azerbaijan created a tolerance toolkit for teachers to use in the classroom. .(For more extracts and thoughts about this in relation to Glasgow see ACEing Made to Stick - An Extensible New Power Essay)

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