MLEC leads "Syria Speak" via Twitter

Education By Flavia Cuervo, Special to The Miami Laker, and Miami Laker staff Friday, October 4, 2013


In an age of global awareness and hashtag activism, a large part of civic involvement in journalism occurs on social networking sites. 

On Thursday, September 5, the staff of Miami Lakes Educational Center's (MLEC) student newspaper, The Harbinger, made the hashtag #SyriaSpeak trend on Twitter throughout an hour and a half long, student led, discussion about the crisis in Syria. MLEC students effectively used social media as a platform for noteworthy and considerate political discussion. 

Although social media is often criticized for being a distraction, the tide is moving in the direction of using it as a teaching tool, something Miami-Dade County superintendent Alberto Carvalho agrees with, as shown by recent initiatives taken to "cyber" enhance classrooms. 

"We have to meet students where they are," Carvalho said, referring to technology and social media. 

A total of 363 users and 804 tweets (475 retweets) in two days made #SyriaSpeak a trending topic in the United States, the 141st trending hashtag, receiving thousands of tweets from several hundred accounts. A topic trends on Twitter after a large number of people tweet about it. 

Within minutes the event had gained the attention of students from all over Dade County, like Anthony Horta, a senior at North Miami Senior High School, and from alumni across the country like Javon Brown, studying at the University of Chicago in Illinois. 

Long after students had finished their discussion, the hashtag continued to be used by people all across the country. 

Ricardo Romero, student at MLEC, said "The discussion was a good idea. I liked that a lot of people were able to join in on Twitter, even people who don't go to our school." 

The staff of The Harbinger, has been building their online presence for the last two years, using Twitter to report on topics like the presidential debates and election, which manifested from cyber commentary to in-school action when they later hosted a mock debate and election for students. 

The Harbinger Twitter handle @HarbingerMLEC acted as a bipartisan force of discussion, periodically asking questions like "Can we afford another war" and "What happens if Congress votes no?" Students and other Twitter users engaged with one another, questioning viewpoints, providing potential solutions, supporting ideas and, at times, even changing them. 

"It seems that throughout this discussion, some contributors have changed their minds. Power of conversation?" Neyda Borges, advisor for The Harbinger tweeted. 

In 140 allowed characters, users managed to ask the difficult questions Americans have been contemplating since the proposal to launch an airstrike against Syria, and giving compelling responses. 

The conversation spanned topics such as moral obligations, the effectiveness of the UN, the oft-mentioned "red line", chemical weapons, and drawing comparisons between the Gulf War, World War II and the Civil War. 

Tweets later revisited the conversation on Syria following President Obama's address on Tuesday, September 10. "Has the President's address done anything to assuage to people's concerns? So much is still uncertain," tweeted The Harbinger. Students at MLEC started the discussion to raise awareness and encourage thoughtful dialogue. 

They hope to continue Twitter talks about other global issues. Superintendent Carvalho chimed in on Twitter after the discussion to say this: "Proud of Miami-Dade's students and their impressive global awareness. Our future is promising because of them." The superintendent also lent his own opinion. "As the world's superpower, America does not have the moral right of silence on human rights abuses," Carvalho tweeted. 

To see tweets from the discussion follow the link or search the hashtag #SyriaSpeak on Twitter.