By Nour Al Ali
How people behave online could reflect who they may be perceived to be in reality. It is often said that people are more likely to display incivility on social media networks than in real life. There has been a number of studies that support such claims. While many blame this spike of incivility on social networks, I find the cause of rudeness, quite frankly, to be the person instigating negative disputes. Online communications are faceless, abstract and impersonal. This make it easier to attack, insult and belittle the other person that if it were face to face. There are no human emotions involved.
Point in case, when browsing through various AUS social networking platforms, I could not help but notice how comments written by users are often rude. A recent example on this is the “If AUS was something (a movie, a book, a song, a car, etc), what would it be?” campaign the university recently started on Facebook and Twitter. Even though I understand how the campaign may have come off as a tad redundant to most, what shocked me most was the blatant responses it received by commentators, mostly by current students and alumni.
There was varied reaction to the campaign, some were wondering if the page had been hacked, others were answering the questions normally in response to what was asked, but there were many others who were not only upset by the posts than others, but they began questioning the proficiency of those handling the page, questioning their character, competence and saying this campaign is an ill representation of the university. Pure ad hominem.
I cannot deny how disturbed I was with what I read, mainly because I have been noticing incivility in comments ever since I liked the page. So I went on a scavenger hunt to understand why this happens. I first spoke to Miriam Kiwan, the university’s Director of Strategic Communications and Media, to see what the motive behind this specific campaign is.
“We started this campaign to provide students an avenue to express their perception about the university in a fun and constructive, positive way,” she said. “We try our best to keep things light when engaging our community on our social media platforms so we thought it may be good to gauge how our community views the university. But we thought to do it in a little different and fun way. That’s how we came up with the idea of that campaign,” Kiwan added.
“In many cases, students may not be normally given a platform to express their views, genuine views about the university, so we thought this could help them speak up. And we expected them to give us a genuine, honest and constructive feedback,” Kiwan said. “We never censor what our followers and fans write on our pages unless the comments are obscene or offensive, but we expect them to at least show some decency when commenting, which I’m sure they do.”
“Our campaigns may not always appeal to all people, but we are always trying our best to give students, alumni and the entire AUS community the platform to express their views. We always welcome constructive criticism and suggestions by our followers on how we can improve,” Kiwan stressed.
I then obtained answers via Facebook crowdsourcing from students and alumni as to why comments are often uncivil.
While Mechanical Engineering student Mohammed Al Shawa believe that is okay to express one’s views as long as foul language is not used, International Studies alumna Sidiqa Sohail said “perhaps they [students] feel as though they are not being heard [by university administrators] that this is their only outlet and so it comes out as venting.”
Hattaf Ansari, Business Administration alumnus, argued that if negative comments are present, it is due to “years of not having an outlet to communicate frustrations with the university.” He also said that “the introduction of the social media channel allowed many for the first time to communicate pent-up frustrations and hence everyone comes across as being rude.”
Ansari also believe that negative commentators go out of their way to comment because they are motivated by frustration, whereas those with positive insights may not be as motivated to comment.
This wave of negative criticism reminded Aida AlNaser, English language alumna, of the Chancellor meeting with students that was organized by the Student Council, and how the students could have expressed their concerns in a less aggressive manner.
However, she added that “Maybe if the university wants different reactions to AUS social media posts, they [the university] will need to change the style and language with which they are addressing their fans and followers.”
“As a university I think that there can be a lot of discussions that the university can start to attract students’ attention,” she said.
Well, at the end of the day, we are all responsible in making or breaking the image of our beloved alma mater. Yes, not every post, every picture and every message etc., may be appealing to everyone but we have to understand that AUS is a very diverse community and what may not appeal to you may be very appealing to someone else. So we might do well to support the university as it tries to reach out to the entire community in its entirety using a variety of social media messages to cater to its diverse audiences. You may be well in stress at times, your professor may have just given you a grade lower than expected, and yes, you may have just read something that doesn’t resonate with you, but how you respond in those situations may define who you really, you can choose to be either a mean-spirited person or a classy, elegant, tasteful, graceful and dignified person, even when you criticize the university, you can choose to do it constructively.
I would also like to point out that I personally find it truthful and delightful that sometimes the university post stories and updates that don’t necessarily promote AUS in a positive regard. To me, this suggests that the university tries to be honest and transparent on its social media platforms even when it is not on their best interest to do so. We must not meet their transparency with incivility. Instead, we should welcome their posts and engage with them constructively. If we disagree with their message or style, it may be better to suggest better alternatives for them to follow, instead of just insulting those who manage the platforms. Negative commentary does not help in solving any issues; instead they reflect negatively on our community, not just us as individuals.
Perhaps what the university needs the most is to hear suggestions from the students and alumni on interesting topics to discuss and changes that may improve the university’s social media interaction. Why not share your suggestions below?
Nour Al-Ali is an English Literature and Mass Communication double major junior at the American University of Sharjah.